The monster cyclone that hit the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, flattening more than 80% of the buildings in some of the archipelago’s outer islands, overshadowed the opening of a disaster risk reduction conference in Sendai, Japan and brought home the effects of climate change, SciDevNet reports.
The annual economic cost of natural disasters now exceeds US$300 billion, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the conference.
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“Disasters undermine hard-earned development gains and perpetuate poverty,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said 70% of disasters around the world are now linked to climate change, a doubling in two decades.
“After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out,” Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale said in Sendai. “This conference is about disaster risk reduction. What is happening in Vanuatu is the reality,” and “climate change is contributing.”
In Vanuatu, communication lines to some parts of the country are still down, with the Washington Post reporting “only silence” from southern islands that were home to more than 30,000 people. Early reconnaissance showed “a flattened landscape and widespread destruction,” AP reported, and “radio and telephone communications with the outer islands were just beginning to be restored.”
Already, “it’s becoming increasingly clear that we are now dealing with worse than the worst case scenario in Vanuatu,” said Oxfam Executive Director Helen Szoke. “We hold grave fears for the people on these outer and remote islands.”
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