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Disaster toll tripled in 2003 amid quakes, heatwave
Updated: 2004-10-28 09:04

Natural disasters killed 76,806 people in 2003, three times the number of victims in 2002, a rise due in part to extremes in the global climate, the world's largest humanitarian body said on Thursday.

An earthquake that killed 31,000 people in the Iranian city of Bam and a heat wave in Europe that killed 35,000, accounted for the higher toll, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

In all, a quarter of a billion people were affected by drought, floods and earthquakes, which caused at least $56 billion in damage in 2003, twice the cost of the previous year, the Federation said in its annual "World Disasters Report".

"Overall numbers of reported disasters are increasing, driven partly by a more variable climate. Meanwhile, a rapid increase of population in poorer parts of the world ... is putting more people at risk," the report said.

In recent years more accurate satellite forecasting and early warning systems have saved lives.

The report said first-aid training, emergency drills and safe building practices can help prevent human and economic losses in risk-prone communities.

Lack of disaster awareness and poor enforcement of building codes in Bam killed many inhabitants in the quake that measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, the report said.

The quake, which also left 30,000 homeless, exposed "serious failures in the country's disaster management, including competition between the army and the Red Crescent", it said.

"Bam will not be Iran's last major earthquake -- the country is criss-crossed with fault lines, many of them near large population centres," it said, naming Tehran, Mashhad and Tabriz.

With a population of 12 million, the Federation said Tehran was a "time bomb". It was last hit by a major earthquake in 1830.

The report found that local rescuers were quicker and often more effective than international teams.

Iranian rescue teams saved "seven times more people than all the international teams that flew in from abroad", said the report's author Jonathan Walter at a news conference.

But more funding is needed from donor countries to develop the ability of countries to tackle emergencies alone as international teams are more expensive.

In one example of better local readiness, the report said residents of the Tuti island, in the heart of Sudan's capital Khartoum, were more prepared to cope with floods.

Houses had raised entrances and water-resistant mud was used on walls. A flood commmittee organised 24-hour patrols, while volunteers used drums and the mosque's megaphone to warn the population when river waters rose.

As a result, Tuti's 15,000 residents withstood flooding without major casualties or by depending on external aid.

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