6 Mar 2012

Economic cost of natural disasters skyrockets - UN

10:29 am on 6 March 2012

Disasters including the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand cost the world a record figure of more than $US380 billion last year, a UN official says.

Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN special envoy on disaster risk reduction, called the figure "the minimum" cost and said it was two thirds higher than the last record in 2005 when the United States suffered huge losses from Hurricane Katrina.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Canterbury earthquakes and well as floods in Thailand and other countries sent the cost skyrocketing.

"Earthquakes are the costliest and the deadliest of disasters," Ms Wahlstrom told a press conference to mark the first anniversary of the Japan quake on 11 March last year.

The quake, tsunami and nuclear explosion at Fukushima caused more than $US210 billion of damage, according to the UN disaster risk reduction agency.

It has put the cost of the Thailand floods at more than $US40 billion.

New Zealand's central bank has estimated that the deadly earthquake on 22 February last year caused about $US25 billion in losses, just for rebuilding, AFP reports.

"The main message is that this is an increasing and very rapidly increasing trend, with increasingly economic losses," Wahlstrom said.

"Globally, the disaster mortalities are proportionally declining because countries are getting much better at early warning systems and preparedness," she said. "But the economics of disasters is becoming a major threat to a number of countries."

From 1999 to 2011, 473,000km of roads were ripped apart by disasters in just 19 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, she said.

Almost 64,000 schools were destroyed in the same time.

Half the world's seven billion people are now exposed to disaster risks because they live in vulnerable areas, according to the UN official.