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Red Cross warns of global warming role in disasters

The Red Cross said the biggest disaster of 2006 was the earthquake in Yogyakarta, Indonesia

(Keystone)

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has pointed to the growing role of global warming in causing natural disasters.

The Swiss-based humanitarian agency made the comments as it published its World Disasters Report 2007, which this year focuses on tackling discrimination of women, people with disabilities and the elderly during catastrophes.

Federation secretary-general Markku Niskala said that overall disasters killed fewer people in 2006 and caused less financial damage around the world than in 2005.

There were 427 disasters in 2006 compared with 433 in 2005. In the same period, the number of affected people dropped ten per cent, while the number of deaths plunged by 75 per cent to 23,833.

Disaster costs were estimated at $34.5 billion (SFr39 billion) for 2006, a much lower figure than in 2005 - $210 billion - the year of the devastating Hurricane Katrina.

However, the annual report also noted that more than two thirds of natural disasters last year were caused by floods or by extreme weather and pointed to global warming as a main factor.

"The figures confirm the trend of the past years," Niskala told reporters. By October 2007, 410 disasters had been tallied, 56 per cent of which were weather-related.

Overall, the agency noted that in the past ten years (1997-2006) the number of natural disasters had increased by 60 per cent compared with the previous decade.

The number of dead doubled during this period to 1.2 million people.

Although some of the figures could be due to better reporting, said the Federation, there was no doubt that "severe disasters are also on the increase".

Discrimination

One topic that the organisation particularly wants to highlight this year, which forms the second part of its report, is discrimination in disasters.

This, it says, needs to be considered in disaster preparedness programmes and in access to aid.

Among those particularly vulnerable are women, the elderly, certain minorities and people with disabilities – "people whose views are seldom sought out or heard," said the agency.

"The answer to this discrimination must be dialogue, openness and understanding," said Niskala in a statement. "Aid agencies need to work to change attitudes, develop inclusion and advocate on behalf of marginalised groups."

"Discrimination thrives in the shadows, so we need to chase those shadows away."

Tsunami example

The 2004 southeast Asian tsunami was one example, said Mohammed Mukhier, one of the report's authors.

Three times as many women died in the tidal wave as men because they were at home, he explained.

The report also found that minorities, such as the Sri Lankan Tamils, did not receive the same amount of tsunami aid as others.

Older people are in general strongly affected by disasters because they cannot flee on their own or because they live alone. This will become a greater problem, as the number of the world's old people increases, said the Federation.

It is calling on aid agencies and governments to take more action against discrimination.

It recommends drawing up a clear definition of marginalisation and vulnerability, gathering more information on the impact of discrimination, and including vulnerable groups into emergency and developmental aid programmes.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The World Disasters Report is published annually by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The 2007 edition focuses on tackling discrimination of women, people with disabilities and the elderly during catastrophes.

According to the report, there were 427 disasters in 2006 compared with 433 in 2005.

Disaster costs were estimated at $34.5 billion (SFr39 billion) for 2006, compared with $210 billion for 2005.

Founded in 1919, the Geneva-based International Federation comprises 186 member Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, a Secretariat in Geneva and more than 60 delegations strategically located to support activities around the world. The network comprises some 100 million individual volunteers and members.

The organisation's programmes focus on: promoting humanitarian principles and values; disaster response; disaster preparedness; and health and care in the community.

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