Global report: Weather wreaked havoc, Aids killed millions, fast food boomed, smoking declined and conflicts increased

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The Independent Online

An unprecedented rise in the Earth's average temperature last year meant it was hotter by nearly a fifth of a degree Celsius than 1997, the previous record year. Extreme-weather events in many parts of the globe left a damage bill estimated at pounds 59bn, up 53 per cent from the old record of pounds 38bn, set in 1996. Hurricane Mitch, the deadliest Atlantic storm in two centuries, killed 11,000 people in Central America and Hurricane Georges killed 4,000 people in the US and the Caribbean. The Yangstze river floods in China caused pounds 19bn of damage and more than 3,500 deaths.


Aids claimed a record 2.5 million lives globally in 1988 and 5.8 million more people contracted HIV. Worldwide, 47.2 million people are now infected with the virus and 14.3 million have died of the disease. In a dozen African nations, at least 10 per cent of the adult population carries the virus and in some one in four adults is infected."Barring a medical miracle, future Aids deaths in these nations will bring population growth to a halt," says the report.

But Poliomyelitis, once considered one of the most deadly diseases, fell to a record low level of 3,600 cases, down 90 per cent in a decade.


Fast-food restaurants, of which there are now more than 100,000, are multiplying rapidly across the globe, largely because increases in single-parent families, single households and working women have reduced the time available to prepare food. McDonald's now operates more than 23,000 restaurants in 13 countries. Half of restaurant revenues in the US are from fast-food outlets and, in 1998, 28 per cent of US potato production became French fries. The remarkable growth in fish-farming is also highlighted in the report, which says it could overtake beef farming in output by 2015.


The world produced 5.61 trillion cigarettes in 1998, down from 5.64 trillion in 1997, the second successive annual drop from the historical high of 5.68 trillion cigarettes in 1996. This may mark the reversal of half a century of growth in the number of smokers in the world, says the report. It attributes the fall to spreading awareness worldwide of smoking's devastating effect on health. At the same time global life expectancy crept to a new high of 66.0 years in 1998, meaning that typically a person born then will die in 2064, having lived 43 per cent longer than a person born in 1950.


The number of wars worldwide in 1998 rose to 31, up from 25 in 1997, the report says. Virtually all of them, apart from that in the former Yugoslavia, are taking place in developing countries in Africa and Asia, most inside the boundaries of a single state.

But nuclear arsenals are shrinking. The most recent figures, for 1997, show total warhead numbers fell by 9 per cent to 36,110, from 39,807 the year before. Russia retains 23,000 warheads; the US has 12,000; and Britain, France and China about 1,000 in all. Russia is the only country still producing new warheads.