By Michael Taylor
KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Natural disasters such as drought and floods cost developing countries $96 billion in damage to crops and livestock between 2005 and 2015, highlighting the need to step up protection for poor farmers, the United Nations said.
Half the total damage - $48 billion - occurred in Asia, according to a report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched at a Hanoi conference on Thursday.
"Asia is always, in terms of natural hazards, the most-hit area simply because so many tropical storms and heavy monsoon rains hit that region," Stephan Baas, a risk advisor at FAO and one of the study's authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Besides precipitation, Asian agriculture was also affected by earthquakes, tsunamis and extreme temperatures, the report said.
Drought alone caused $29 billion of the damage to the agriculture sector across all developing countries, the study showed, making it a major threat to food security and incomes.
In Africa, agricultural losses from natural disasters amounted to $26 billion over the decade, and in Latin America and the Caribbean, $22 billion. Drought was the costliest disaster for crops and livestock in those two regions.
Crop pests and animal diseases caused about $6 billion of the losses to African farmers.
Climate change is likely to worsen the threats and challenges from natural disasters, FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said in a statement.
Efforts to reduce the risks of disasters and manage them better must be part of modern agriculture if sustainable development is to be achieved, officials added.
"The main purpose of the report is to give evidence to policymakers and planners so they know what can be avoided," said Baas.
Measures to curb risks include using seeds that are resilient to drought or floods, early warning systems for extreme weather, and access to insurance and finance for farmers, he added.
The report, which excludes industrialised countries, will be updated every two years, and used as a tool to monitor global commitments to tackle poverty and climate change, noted Baas.
Globally, about 2.5 billion people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, the FAO report said.
(Reporting by Michael Taylor, Editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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