UN: Growth of slums boosting natural disaster risk

May 17, 2009 By BRIAN MURPHY , Associated Press Writer

FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 4, 2008 file photo, the slum of Kibera is seen in foreground from the air with the Nairobi skyline in the background, in Nairobi, Kenya. The rampant growth of urban slums around the world and weather extremes linked to climate change have sharply increased the risks from "megadisasters" such as devastating floods and cyclones, a U.N. report said Sunday, May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Riccardo Gangale, File)
(AP) -- The rampant growth of urban slums around the world and weather extremes linked to climate change have sharply increased the risks from "megadisasters" such as devastating floods and cyclones, a U.N. report said Sunday.

The study - which examines natural disaster trends and strategies to reduce potential catastrophes - also noted that millions of people in rural areas are at higher risk from disasters such as landslides where forests have been stripped away or crippling droughts blamed on shifting rainfall patterns.

Much of nearly 200-page report restates warnings from previous studies about unchecked urban growth and shortsighted rural planning. But it also seeks to sharpen the apparent link between climate change and the severity and frequency of major including severe droughts and epic storms.

"Climate change magnifies the interactions between disaster risk and poverty. On the one hand, it magnifies weather-related and climatic hazards. On the other hand, it will decrease the resilience of many poor households and communities to absorb the impact and recover," said the report, which was released in the Gulf nation of Bahrain.

At least 900 million people now live in shantytowns and other makeshift settlements in cities vulnerable to disasters such as cyclones, flooding or earthquakes, the report said. Those populations are growing at a rate of about 25 million a year, it said.

One model predicted many of the more than 19 million people in greater Manila would be swamped by a tsunami hitting the capital of the .

India, China and other parts of Asia were at a particularly high risk from so-called "megadisasters" such as last year's Cyclone Nargis, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in Myanmar, and the massive quake in China that claimed nearly 90,000 lives and left 5 million people homeless.

"Asia was hit especially hard," said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was in Bahrain for the release of the report.

He said more than 300 natural disasters around the world last year caused more than $180 billion in damage.

"The linkages between disaster risk, poverty and climate change ... form a particularly tightly interlocked group of global challenges," the report said.

The lead author, Andrew Maskrey, acknowledged it was impossible to halt the migration to cities by people seeking work.

"But there are ways to alleviate the conditions of intense poverty if leaders choose to take the steps," he said. "It's all about whether there is the political will."

Maskrey noted initiatives in several cities, including Bogota, Columbia, and Karachi, Pakistan, to try to improve conditions in squatter settlements and shantytowns.

"There are all these factors coming together: urban poverty, , migration to cities from rural areas," he said. "We're saying: This is bringing about a situation of impending catastrophes, but there's also something we can do about it to lower the risks."

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: Lessons from the tsunami: protect the coast and it will protect you

Related Stories

India To Launch Exclusive Satellite To Track Natural Disasters

November 1, 2005

In the wake of the recent earthquake which caused havoc in India and Pakistan, killing thousands of people, the Government of India has decided to launch an exclusive satellite that can track natural disasters, a top official ...

Mapping the Risks of Hurricane Disasters

September 26, 2005

The Natural Disaster Hotspots report released earlier this year showed that the U.S. Gulf Coast is among the world's most at-risk regions in terms of human mortality and economic loss due to storms like Katrina and Rita. ...

Researcher: Global warming not to blame for tsunami

January 21, 2005

The shock and awe resulting from the massive tsunami that hit Indian Ocean nations Dec. 26 has left many wondering what could have caused such a disaster – and if there is anything humans can do to control or mitigate future ...

Mayday 23: World Population Becomes More Urban Than Rural

May 22, 2007

There’s no big countdown billboard or sign in Times Square to denote it, but Wednesday, May 23, 2007, represents a major demographic shift, according to scientists from North Carolina State University and the University ...

Confronting worldwide disaster losses

November 5, 2007

In the current edition of leading journal Science, an international team of experts argues that governments and policymakers worldwide need to take swift action now to minimise mounting losses due to future natural disasters ...

Recommended for you

Afromontane forests and climate change

January 17, 2019

In the world of paleoecology, little has been known about the historical record of ecosystems in the West African highlands, especially with regard to glacial cycles amidst a shifting climate and their effects on species ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.