War's Bad Enough, Nature's Even Worse

  • Share
  • Read Later
Quick, who killed more than 10,000 people last year and drove millions more from their homes? The answer begins with an M... Nope, it wasn’t Slobodan Milosevic; it was a hurricane with the easygoing moniker of Mitch. In fact, more people were turned into refugees by Mother Nature in 1998 than by wars and other conflicts, according to the International Red Cross World Disasters Report 1999. The report says that violent weather episodes from China and India through the Philippines and Central America killed 20,000 people and impacted dramatically on the lives of some 250 million others.

But if 1998 was the worst year on record for natural disasters, the bad news is that worse is to come. "The impact of climate change brought on by global warming is being multiplied by problems such as poverty, population growth and new antibiotic-resistant diseases," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. Honduran and Nicaraguan urban shanty dwellers were more vulnerable to the flooding caused by Hurricane Mitch than were their middle-class neighbors, while the burden of last year’s harsh Northern Hemisphere winter was heaviest for the 44 million Russians who live in poverty. "Even greater calamities are looming on the horizon, and the global impact of problems such as disease make it unwise for the U.S. to ignore," says Dowell. "Unfortunately, we’ve tended to break down rather than build up the multinational forums appropriate for dealing with these crises, such as the United Nations." Washington and its NATO pals may have managed to face down Milosevic while hardly involving the U.N., but when it comes to dealing with Mother Nature’s wrath, everyone will need to work together.