The World Bank and Columbia University yesterday released a report calling on governments to institute comprehensive approaches to easing the effects of natural disasters. Incidents related to such events killed more than 90,000 people in 2005, setting a new record.

The 360 natural disasters that occurred last year caused $159 billion in damage, with most of that amount -- $125 billion -- attributed to Hurricane Katrina's impact on the U.S. Gulf Coast. That represents a 71 percent increase over 2004's total losses of $93 billion.

According to the report, titled "Natural Disaster Hotspots: Case Studies," the impacts of population and economic growth, rapid urbanization, environmental degradation and climate change are among the factors that will continue to intensify the deadly trend unless something is done to reduce risks.

The report offers three case studies addressing specific hazards -- landslides, storm surges and drought -- as well as three other case studies that consider multi-hazard situations in Sri Lanka, the Tana River basin in Kenya and the Venezuelan city of Caracas. It builds on a 2005 World Bank analysis that looked at six major natural hazards: cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, floods, landslides and volcanoes.

Poor nations are often the most susceptible to natural disasters, the report notes. But as the world witnessed during Katrina's devastating aftermath, poor regions of wealthy nations are also vulnerable. In the United States, the South has the highest proportion of residents living in poverty, at 14 percent, according to 2005 U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

"Taken together, the global analysis and case studies provide strong evidence of the importance of employing proactive, comprehensive approaches in disaster risk management," says World Bank Senior Program Officer Margaret Arnold.