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When a car is well maintained, it can provide safe transportation. But that vehicle when abused and neglected can be dangerous and be the cause of traffic accidents. In some respects, the same can be said of planet earth.

In the opinion of a number of scientists, human-induced changes in earth's atmosphere and oceans have made our planet a dangerous place by contributing to more frequent and more severe natural disasters. And the future looks uncertain. «We're in the middle of a large uncontrolled experiment on the only planet we have," said an editorial on climate change in Science magazine.

Parts of Europe sweltered during the summer of 2003. The high temperatures contributed to approximately 30,000 deaths in Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. A premonsoon heat wave in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan resulted in 1,500 deaths, while drought and record heat in Australia triggered bush fires that consumed over three millions hectares. In 2003, Sri Lanka was hit by a cyclone that caused severe flooding, resulting in at least 250 deaths? In 2004, a second record of at least 23 typhoons brewed in the western Pacific. Ten of them hit Japan, where they caused extensive damage and took more than 170 lives. Floods resulting from heavy monsoon rains affected nearly 30 million people in south Asia, especially Bangladesh. Millions were made homeless, almost three million were displaced, and more than 1, 300 were killed.

Several powerful earthquakes struck during 2003. On May 21, in Algiers, Algeria, a quake injured 10,000 people and left 200,000 homeless. At 5:26 a.m. on December 26, the earth quaked eight kilometres south of the city of Bam in Iran. The magnitude 6.5 quake devastated 70 percent of the city, claimed 40,000 lives, and left more than 100, 000 homeless. It was the most lethal natural disaster of the year.

Exactly one year later, a magnitude 9.0 quake occurred just off the western coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia, spawning by far the deadliest tsunamis in recorded history. The killer waves claimed over 200,000 lives and left many more injured homeless, or both. Even the east coast of the Africa, 4,500 kilometres or more west of the epicentre, came within the tsunamis' fatal embrace.

Are such events a foretaste of what is to come? Statistics indicate that 90°/° of all disaster-related deaths occur in developing lands. Wealthy nations, on the other hand, have a lower mortality rate but experience 75°/°of the economic losses.

Adapted from AWAKE, July 22nd, 2005




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