COUNTING THE COST OF DISASTERS IN ASIA PACIFIC
The economic cost of natural disasters in the first quarter of 2011 in the Asia Pacific region is the highest on record.
This is because three of the region’s most developed countries – Australia, New Zealand and Japan, all suffered significant losses as a result of natural disasters. In January, floods devastated huge parts of Australia’s eastern seaboard, including the nation’s third largest city, Brisbane. With an estimated US$9.8 billion worth of damages this is Australia’s costliest natural disaster ever. On 22 February, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck New Zealand’s second largest city, Christchurch, leaving 172 people dead and parts of the city in ruin. It is estimated that reconstruction will cost US$12 billion.
However, it’s the 11 March earthquake and tsunami in Japan that could be the costliest disaster in the world to date, with the Government of Japan estimating damages of up to $309 billion. More than 28,000 people died or remain missing. Compared to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami -- a similar disaster -- the contrast is staggering. The Indian Ocean disaster resulted in more than 226,000 deaths but only $14 billion in losses.
The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) reports that there have been 27 natural disasters in the region this quarter. In January and February, floods in eastern and central Sri Lanka left 62 people dead and a million people in need of humanitarian assistance. A Flash Appeal was issued and later revised for $44 million. Devastating floods in the Philippines in January also left more than half a million people displaced, killed more than 68 people and affected more than one million. It is estimated to have cost $12 million. In January, Cyclones Vania and Wilma swept through Vanuatu and Tonga, respectively, bringing damaging heavy rains and strong winds to several island communities. Some 32,500 people were affected in Vanuatu and 7,600 in Tonga.
On 22 March, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the eastern part of Myanmar, leaving at least 74 people dead and hundreds injured. While the estimated damages are unclear, $4.1 million has been provided bilaterally or through NGOs working in the area.
The lesson is clear. Both developed and developing countries pay the price for natural disasters – but the difference is they pay disproportionately in economic costs or in the loss of lives. Disaster risk reduction and preparedness saves lives. Investment in building codes and resilient designs for schools and other vital structures saves lives. Being prepared for the worst will help save lives when inevitable hazards strike.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
- To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.