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Afghanistan, Chad, Eritrea, Niger and Sierra Leone are the top five most vulnerable countries to natural disasters, according to a new global disaster risk index launched by the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS).

The World Risk Index aims to help donors and aid organisations understand why some countries are at a higher risk than others and to help them shape their responses to disasters, according to IRIN.

It is unique in defining risk as the interaction between a natural hazard and the vulnerability of a particular community, Jörn Birkmann, scientific head of the project claimed.

It does this by looking at four key factors: exposure to natural hazards; likelihood of societies and ecosystems of being damaged; their capacity to cope through good governance, disaster preparedness and early warning systems; and their adaptation strategies.

The index covered 173 countries for which data was available and it was used to calculate risks for the World Risk Report 2011, published last week (2 September) by UNU-EHS and the Alliance Development Works — a consortium of five, German non-governmental organisations.

Other countries among the top 15 most vulnerable are Burundi, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Liberia, Madagascar, Mozambique and Togo.