A staggering new set of figures issued by Christian Aid yesterday (15 May) reveals that climate-related disasters in poor countries could cost millions of lives and thousand of billions of pounds unless global warming is tackled. Launching Christian Aid Week, the agency warned that between now and 2020: up to three-quarters of the world's population, the vast majority of them in poor countries, could be at risk from droughts or floods. They said the world could face a bill of 6.5 thousand billion pounds for 'natural' catastrophes, equivalent to the cost of 6,000 space shuttles or 8,600 Millennium Domes. "Nine of the past eleven catastrophes to which Christian Aid has responded have been caused by extreme weather conditions," said Malcolm Rodgers, Christian Aid's head of policy. "Country after country is being devastated by these so-called natural disasters and we and others are simply picking up the pieces." After several years of almost continuous catastrophes, it is clear that it is the poor who are hit hardest by climate change: In 1998: 10,000 people died and two million were made homeless by Hurricane Mitch in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. In 1999: 10,000 people were killed or remain missing as a result of the cyclone that tore through Orissa in eastern India. In 2000: 16 million people in the horn of Africa, including those in Ethiopia and the Sudan, face starvation and have had their lives shattered by the failure of rains for the third year running. Today: 100 million people are at risk from drought in northern India. The rains have failed for three successive years and forecasts suggest that the next monsoon, in September, will be hopelessly inadequate. At the start of Christian Aid week, the charity is calling on the governments of the world's wealthiest countries, especially those in the G8 - the leading industrialised nations which includes Britain and the USA - to act swiftly and make significant cuts in the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. "The oceans have warmed and they are going to get warmer. We have to get used to the idea that the costs of prevention will be less than the costs of coping with disasters." said Julian Salt from the Loss Prevention Council which advises the UK insurance industry. Global warming is on our doorstep too, he warned. A rise in sea level could endanger many coastal areas of Britain, said Malcolm Rodgers. But imagine being a mother in India, enduring temperatures of 45 degrees with no water and little to eat, says Christian Aid's report. That's what climate-related catastrophes are doing now and if wealthy governments don't face the problem they will put the lives of billions of poor people at risk. If you would like to see Christian Aid's new report 'Unnatural Disasters' visit their website on: www.christian-aid.org.
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