Emerging trends, notably urbanization, climate change, and demographic shifts are starting to create new vulnerabilities to disasters. Massive urbanisation and the growth of mega cities in low-lying flood plains and/or earthquake zones create an increasing risk of disasters in urban areas, of which the recent cyclones in Manila in 2009 are an example. In Nepal, where Kathmandu is ranked first in earthquake risk amongst all cities in the world,3 government and international agencies have begun to appreciate the very high likelihood of a major earthquake and its potentially devastating consequences given the population density and lack of building codes. The mega-cities of Asia in the Himalayan belt—China, Indonesia, and the Philippines—are prime candidates for a one million-plus fatality earthquake event.
Climate change will create growing challenges. Delta regions in South, East, and South-East Asia are expected to be at risk of increased flooding; food 2 OCHA (2009f) has drafted an internal paper on regional trends and implications on which this section largely draws. 3 IASC Nepal, Needs Analysis Framework, Key Findings (Kathmandu, September 2008), 34.security will be threatened by increased drought; and the small island states in the Pacific will be at increased risk of inundation, storm surges, erosion, and other coastal hazards.
Demographic trends mean that the region as a whole will have an increasingly elderly population. In the last forty years, life expectancy in China has risen by thirty-one years, in the Philippines by twenty-one years, and in Bangladesh by twenty years. Just over half of the world’s older people currently live in Asia but, by 2050, Asia will be home to almost two-thirds of the world’s older population.
Many of the natural disasters in the region create small- and medium-scale emergencies, which the tools of the international system are ill equipped to deal with because of the current fairly cumbersome appeal process that must be completed before significant resources can be mobilised. This is particularly the case for countries or sub-regions within countries that do not already have an established presence of international aid agencies. At the moment there is often either a large international response to major disasters with an influx of agencies or very little international support. There is a need for better and more flexible tools for responding to small- and medium-scale disasters and for maintaining a balance between capacities to respond to small- and medium- as well as large-scale disasters.