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Red Cross: Urban dwellers globally suffer unprecedented risk from disasters

Sept 21, 2010, BEIJING, China — With the majority of people on Earth now living in towns and cities, urban dwellers in middle and low income nations face rising threats from natural disasters, violence and health hazards, a Red Cross report said Tuesday.

Risks are exacerbated by rapid urbanization, poor local governance, population growth and the worsening of natural disasters due to global warming, according to the World Disasters Report compiled by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

“There are now 1 billion urban dwellers living in slums. If the conditions don’t improve, more people will be affected in the case of major disasters like the Haiti earthquake,” Alistair Henley, director of IFRC’s Asia Pacific region, said at a news conference Tuesday.

This year’s report shifted its focus to hazards in cities in part because the development of disaster aid to urban dwellers has not kept up with the rapid pace of urbanization. The number of urban dwellers reached 3.5 billion this year, compared with 3.4 billion rural residents, the report said.

Of all the disasters, seismic activity killed the most people — an average of 50,184 people per year from 2000 to 2008, the report said. In 2009, natural disasters killed 10,551 people, a figure expected to be substantially higher this year with Haiti’s earthquake alone killing as many as 300,000 people.

Technological disasters such as industrial accidents and mine or chemical plant explosions killed 6,707 last year, the report said.

Henley said slum dwellers in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia are at increased risk as a result of health hazards and urban violence stemming from government repression and groups fighting for scarce resources such as food and basic necessities.

The report called for heightened disaster preparation and more government funding for health care and security, while also urging the nurturing of community organizations and private sector initiatives.

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