Income disparity, debt lead risk list

AP News

1/8/2013 7:06:31 AM - AP News

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — The widening income gap between the rich and poor and burgeoning government deficits are the risks most likely to have a global impact over the next decade, according to experts surveyed by the World Economic Forum.

Climate change, water shortages and aging populations rounded out the WEF's top five risks. The 1,000-plus experts surveyed for the Switzerland-based forum's annual risk report also warn that risk factors could combine to produce unique problems. These risk combinations included climate change putting a heavy burden on a global economy and a declining economy in turn hurting efforts to fight global warming.

"These global risks are essentially a health warning regarding our most critical systems," said report editor Lee Howell, a managing director at the forum. "Resilience to global risks needs to be a priority so that critical systems continue to function despite a major disturbance."

The experts also identified the global health threat from increasing resistance of germs to antibiotics. Another new worry is a "digital wildfire" of wrong or controversial information going viral across online communities, such as outrage last year in the Muslim world over an anti-Islamic film.

The report's authors also noted that more and more people are living in disaster-prone areas such as coastal regions, increasing the economic costs of storms and flooding blamed on global warming.

The report was published ahead of the forum's annual meeting later this month in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.