GENEVA (Reuters) - Asian countries led by Bangladesh and China dominated an index produced on Monday by the United Nations that estimates which populations are most at risk from earthquakes, floods, cyclones and landslides.
The Mortality Risk Index was issued by the U.N. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) before a four-day meeting of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction opening on Tuesday at which 1,800 officials and experts will examine natural catastrophes.
“There literally are no countries in the world that are not potentially affected by hazards,” UNISDR chief Margareta Wahlstrom told a news conference. Wahlstrom said countries that were not major risks now could be in the future as climate change affects weather and sea levels.
The index, measuring where people are most likely to die in a disaster, looks at hazard -- the risk that the disaster will occur, but also exposure and vulnerability, which reflect how countries cope.
For instance vulnerability to earthquakes takes into account the rapidity of urban growth. Other factors would include hospitals and other infrastructure.
IMPACT OF DISASTERS
Wahlstrom said the index showed that countries could reduce the impact of disasters. For instance Japan has the highest exposure to cyclones but ranks as only a medium risk for the category because of civil defense and other mitigation measures.
“Our message is: you don’t have to be defeated, because you have a choice,” she said.
Four countries with big populations -- Bangladesh, China, India and Indonesia -- are in the extreme category for average number of people at risk in absolute terms.
But when the index is weighted for population the list is headed by Colombia, with a number of small nations such as Comoros, Dominica, Vanuatu and Fiji also high up.
A “multi” index averages these two to reflect both perspectives.
The index throws up some strange neighbors, with the United States, Haiti and Ethiopia all categorized as “medium high” risks overall. The United States is exposed to both earthquakes and cyclones, and as Hurricane Katrina showed, large groups of poor people in the United States are vulnerable to disasters
UNISDR Scientific Adviser Pascal Peduzzi said the one weakness of the index was that it excluded droughts, because their impact was often linked more to civil unrest or conflict than weather or other natural factors.
If drought were included, many African countries would be much higher in the index, he said.
The index draws on data from 1977 to 2007 for earthquakes and cyclones, and scientific modeling for other categories.
Reporting by Jonathan Lynn
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