March 2, 2006

Hurricane season could match ’05: UN

By Mica Rosenberg

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - This year's hurricane season
could match the record breaking destruction caused by storms in
2005, the United Nations warned.

In 2005, an unprecedented 27 tropical storms, 15 of which
became full-blown hurricanes, battered Central America and the
U.S. Gulf coast, killing more than 3,000 people and causing
tens of billions of dollars in damage.

"We have reason to fear that 2006 could be as bad as 2005,"
Jan Egeland, the undersecretary general for humanitarian
affairs who coordinates U.N. emergency relief, told Reuters on

"We have had a dramatic increase in climate related natural
disasters and at the same time we have more vulnerable people,
so it's a double effect," he said in Guatemala, where he is
meeting Central American leaders to plan for future disasters.

"That's why we need to prepare in order to prevent the

Hurricane Stan killed more than 2,000 people in Central
America last October. Guatemala was hardest hit with mudslides
burying villages and washing away roads.

Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans and much of the U.S.
Gulf coast in late August, killing about 1,300 people.

Guatemala's losses from Stan were nearly $1 billion,
equivalent to more than 3 percent of the country's gross
domestic product, according to a recent U.N. study.

The U.N. launched an international appeal for more than $30
million in hurricane relief here but has only managed to raise
two-thirds of that amount so far.

Most is earmarked for reconstruction rather than
prevention. Programs to reinforce buildings and train emergency
workers are expensive but Egeland insisted that every dollar
spent on prevention can save millions in the aftermath of a
natural disaster.

"Haiti is the most vulnerable society in the region and
Cuba is one of the best prepared, if not the best prepared for
natural disasters," said Egeland. "The same hurricane which
would take zero lives in Cuba would kill massively in Haiti."

Latin American and Caribbean nations are prone to floods,
earthquakes and forest fires as well as hurricanes, the fallout
from which is compounded by poverty and weak infrastructure.