Death toll from disasters surged in 2008, UN reports

Survivors of Cyclone Nargis in the aftermath of the disaster

22 January 2009 – The number of people killed in natural disasters spiked in 2008, with most of the lives claimed by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar and the Sichuan earthquake in China, according to figures released today by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).

The 2008 death toll of 235,816 was more than three times the annual average of the previous eight years. Cyclone Nargis and the Sichuan tremors, which both took place last May, killed nearly 140,000 people and almost 90,000 people, respectively.

“The dramatic increase in human and economic losses from disasters in 2008 is alarming,” said ISDR Director Sálvano Briceño.

“Sadly, these losses could have been substantially reduced if buildings in China, particularly schools and hospitals, had been built to be more earthquake-resilient,” he added. “An effectively early warning system with good community preparedness could have also saved many lives in Myanmar if it had been implemented before Cyclone Nargis.”

Asia remained the continent most affected by disasters, with nine of the ten countries with the highest number of deaths in Asia.

Despite the dramatic rise in deaths from disasters in 2008, last year also saw fewer disasters, with 321 compared to the 2000-2007 average of nearly 400.

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