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Asia-Pacific remains "most disaster-prone region" in world in 2015, UN reports

UNITED NATIONS, March 10 (Xinhua) -- The Asia-Pacific region "continues to be the most disaster prone part of the world in 2015" and needs a risk-sensitive development approach, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said here Thursday.

More than half of the world's 344 disasters in 2015, resulting in more than 16,000 deaths and affecting some 59 million people, occurred in Asia-Pacific, Dujarric said, quoting a new report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP), which was released earlier Thursday.

The report was entitled "Disasters in Asia and the Pacific: 2015 Year in Review."

"The cost of economic damage to countries in the region was more than 45 billion U.S. dollars, although that figure would be much higher if indirect losses were included," he said.

South Asia was the hardest hit, recording 52 disasters and more than 14,000 deaths, with most deaths attributed to the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal in April 2015, the spokesman noted.

Meanwhile, the report warned that the region's burgeoning cities may not be adequately equipped to tackle urban disasters that occur more frequently and with greater intensity.

More than 700 million people in the region live in cities at "extreme" or "high" disaster risk, and by 2030 this number could reach one billion, according to the report.

In many big cities in Asia-Pacific, much of the infrastructure is outdated and built without adequate attention to disaster resilience, the report noted.

Last year, the urban centres of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Japan were affected by severe floods, while Nepal's capital city, Kathmandu, bore the brunt of the economic damage from the April earthquake.

Widespread floods in Chennai, India in December 2015 illustrate the common challenges faced by many big cities. With the ecological buffers depleted over time by rapid, unplanned urbanization, the floods inundated critical infrastructure, disrupted power networks and waterlogged major city roads.

Economic damage and loss from the floods have been estimated at more than 10 billion U.S. dollars, the report said.

A prolonged El Nino phenomenon last year drew attention to neglected and often forgotten slow-onset disasters by severely exacerbating effects of heat waves, forest fires, haze, and droughts.

El Nino -- which means the Little Boy in Spanish -- and its sister La Nina -- the Little Girl -- are weather events, which contribute to changes in climate and weather.

Last year was the hottest on record, with Pakistan and India reporting more than 3,400 fatalities from a searing heatwave.

Drought caused serious water and food shortages in much of South and Southeast Asia and several fatalities in the Pacific. Rather than dealing with the drought only when it becomes an emergency, it should be addressed from a long-term perspective to protect livelihoods, said the report.

To build a resilient Asia-Pacific, the report further called for increased focus on risk-sensitive development, and stronger regional cooperation for managing trans-boundary disasters. It advocated capitalizing on emerging technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles for disaster management but stresses the need to establish regulatory standards for effective use of these technologies.

The report, commending the "Zero Casualty" policy implemented in the Philippines as a regional good practice, concluded that disaster risk reduction cannot be achieved without political will and effective leadership at all levels of government.

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