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Disaster prone areas also some of the most inhabited

(Global Times)

13:45, November 01, 2011

More than 70 percent of Chinese cities and upwards of half the country's population are exposed to natural hazards, such as extreme weather events plus seismic, geological and marine disasters, said a Chinese scientist.

Guo Huadong, director of the Center for Earth Observation and Digital Earth at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), revealed the stunning figures at a three-day conference for the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR), which started Monday in Beijing. The conference hosted more than 400 delegates from over 40 countries and regions.

The IRDR is a decade-long program addressing the challenges of natural and human-induced environmental hazards.

"China is a country frequently hit by natural disasters. They come in many varieties, cover much of the country, occur often and inflict great social damage," Guo told the Global Times.

"With its rapid socio-economic development, the exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards is by far much higher than ever before, that is to say, the disaster risk is rising."

Guo said that sprawling population growth in flood plains and exposed coastlines are a major reason for the increase in humans being affected by disaster.

According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, since 2008, various natural disasters have caused 2.26 trillion yuan ($360 billion) in direct economic losses on the Chinese mainland.

Worldwide $1.58 trillion worth of GDP is at risk from natural disasters. And the risk of losing wealth in disasters is actually increasing faster than wealth is being created, according to a recent United Nations report.

However, John Handmer, director of the Center for Risk and Community Safety at Australia's RMIT University, said China's vulnerability for disasters has gone down because of its wealth.

He explained high population density and economic activities in hazard-prone regions are mostly money-driven, so a relocation of the industries and population seems unrealistic for policy makers.

"We have to live with the fact, and focus first on what we can do to reduce the risk through reducing vulnerability. And some of that is engineering, technical things and people's behavior."

"Another approach is to reduce people being in the worst areas, though I'm not optimistic about it," suggested Handmer.

Guo, who also chairs China's National Committee of IRDR, told the Global Times the committee is now considering carrying out scientific probes in the country's landslide- and quake-prone regions to assess the risks for local communities.

"The tragedies in quake-ravaged Beichuan and Yushu showed how insufficient knowledge has led to heavy casualties and economic losses," said Guo.

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