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[LONDON] Mortalities from severe droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa have gone down over the last decade but the level of preparedness in most countries remains low, a conference has heard.

Although there have been many criticisms of preparedness and speed of response to famines such as that in Horn of Africa in 2011, disaster data from 1960 to 2009 have revealed that "the number of people dying form drought in the region continues to drop", said Guenene Mulugeta, a researcher at Uppsala University, Sweden.

Mulugeta was speaking at Planet Under Pressure conference in London yesterday (26 March),at a session on global environmental change and sustainable development in least developed countries, most of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

His team found that natural disasters during that period have affected 406 million and killed one million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.

This article is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read insights from our conference team please visit our blog.

The number of people affected by disasters in the region increased each decade from around 10 million in the 1960s to 179 million in the 2000s.

Drought was by far the biggest contributor, comprising 84 per cent of the victims, with floods, storms, epidemics, and earthquakes and volcanoes following.  

Drought also accounted for most disaster deaths — 77 per cent — followed by epidemics at around 20 per cent, floods at two per cent, and earthquakes and volcanoes together at less than one per cent.

The overall impact of droughts on mortality peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, which could be a consequence of improved early warning, preparedness and response, he said.

He highlighted Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi as African countries with best practices directed at addressing drought-related impacts like storing of food for distributions when droughts occur.

But he said that governments on the continent are still not taking enough initiative towards dealing with disasters like flooding and disease epidemics.

"Despite disasters occurring almost every year," he said, "Africa remains least prepared for them and continued to react to its impacts instead putting in place mechanisms for dealing with them."

The continent, he told SciDev.Net, should stop relying on donor assistance and find homegrown solutions to mitigate impacts of disasters and also build internal mechanisms based on scientific evidence.

Daniel Bacarias, an assistant lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique said governments should invest in multidisciplinary research geared towards disaster management.

"We need to reduce the effects of disasters through capacity building and allowing science to take its role in addressing such issues."

Link to live web streaming of the conference

For more news and analysis of the Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference click here, and also see our live blog.