Keeping It Simple: World Bank-UN Report On Preventing Death and Destruction from Natural Disasters
The UN-World Bank report ‘Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention’ launched today in Washington DC; the 2 year effort by 70 experts emphasizes that “prevention pays but you do not always have to pay more for prevention”. Commenting on the report, Michel Jarraud, World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General says “warning people of impending hazards saves lives and livelihoods” and that the report shows “more can be done to take full advantage of technological advances in predicting weather”.
Yearly global losses as a result of natural disasters could reach $185 billion by 2100; the effects of climate change are estimated to add at least $28 billion to these annual losses. The report describes simple, common sense measures to be taken in order to prevent death and destruction as a result of earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding. The measures outlined for disaster-prone countries include making information about risks and hazards readily available, improving land rights, encouraging investment in safer structures, prioritizing maintenance of transport infrastructure and significantly improving early disaster warning systems.
However, the report also emphasizes that the poorest, most vulnerable countries and individuals have, and will continue to face, the heaviest burdens from natural disasters. An estimated 3.3 million deaths have occurred as a result of natural disasters between 1970 and 2010, almost 1 million of these deaths occurred as a result of drought in Africa. For World Bank Group President Robert B Zoellick “This report presents necessary evidence and a compelling case for our client countries to reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards so that they can develop in a sustainable and cost effective way”.
Individuals in wealthier countries will likely be shielded from the worst effects of natural disasters, largely due to the fact that many measures and systems suggested for disaster-prone developing countries are already in place. However, the report also considers that while poor and middle income countries will suffer most, the worst devastations as a result of natural disaster are not predestined.
‘Natural Disasters, UnNatural Hazards’ calls for new innovative infrastructures which are low-cost and multipurpose; crucially these new infrastructures should be designed so as not to introduce new risks. As examples of infrastructures, the report sites schools in Bangladesh that become cyclone shelters and roadways in Malaysia which act as drains. These and other practical lessons from this report are welcomed by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, who praises this “excellent piece of work with really practical lessons that will influence the way disasters are handled – and indeed prevented”.
The report’s team leader Apurva Sanghi suggests that while growth in cities will expose more individuals to risk of disaster, this growth could also mean growth in income, greater adaptability and less vulnerability to natural disasters. “A rise in vulnerability is not inevitable, if cities are well run. We will have disasters even without climate change. Doing a better job in preventing them today will help us deal with tomorrow’s challenges.”
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