Booming cities in Asia face increasing peril as storms and other disasters spike, hitting the poorly prepared region harder than other parts of the globe, according to a new report from the Asian Development Bank.
The warning comes as the biggest city in the United States recovers from Superstorm Sandy, a menace that has drawn new attention to the threats stoked by climate change. As New Yorkers struggle to recover, the report points out that disaster threats are even graver in Asia and the Pacific, where people are 25 times more likely to be affected than in Europe or North America.
Storms and episodes of disastrous flooding, for instance, have shot up more than fourfold worldwide in the past four decades, with more than 100 “intense disasters” now reported annually. In Asia, deaths tied to extreme flooding and storms spiked even more dramatically. Roughly 500 people in Asia lost their lives to such disasters in the 1980s; more than 200,000 perished from such events between 2000 and 2009, the Asian Development Bank wrote.
For much of Asia, increased global flooding has taken an especially deadly toll because populations are soaring in impoverished, low-lying areas, the report warned. Four out of five cities believed to be at extreme risk in natural disasters are in Asia and the Pacific. Poorly managed urbanization has failed to gird its metropolises for the threat, according to the report.
Earlier this year, deadly flooding in China from the heaviest torrent in decades left the government facing a battery of complaints about shoddy infrastructure. In the Philippines, experts have argued that poor planning made flooding fatalities a preventable tragedy.
“With the increasing number of people occupying danger zones, it is inevitable there are a lot people who are endangered when these things happen,” urban planner Nathaniel Einseidel told Agence France-Presse, blaming lax enforcement of regulations against encampments along creeks and floodways.
Disasters also take an especially high economic toll on Asia. Between 1980 and 2009, Asia and the Pacific suffered nearly 40% of the world's economic losses due to natural disasters, a disproportionate share compared with its 25% share in world gross domestic product. It now braces for annual disaster losses that top $19 billion, the report said.
“We have thought for too long that natural disasters come and go, that they are just an interruption to development, and that they can be dealt with after they strike,” Vinod Thomas of the Asian Development Bank said. Instead, the growing menace demands new government action, the group argued, including projects to reduce risks before disasters hit.