New report urges international action in natural disaster preparations
  • | | November 12, 2010 02:27 PM

A joint report from the World Bank and the United Nations suggested that better preparing for disasters is essential for governments worldwide.

The devasting flood hit the central Quang Tri Province of Vietnam in October.

The report estimated that annual global losses from natural disasters could triple to $185 billion by the end of this century.

These figures were estimated before calculating the impact of climate change.

The 250-page report titled, “Natural hazards, unnatural disasters: The economics of effective prevention”, was released in Washington D.C. It targets the world\'s finance ministers and states that prevention pays, emphasising that doesn\'t necessarily mean that governments have to pay more for prevention.

Climate change could then add $28-68 billion dollars in additional damages each year from tropical cyclones alone. The report also says that the number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities could double to 1.5 billion by 2050.

The report outlines a number of measures to prevent death and destruction from natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding. For example, governments can make information about hazards and risks easily accessible, encourage individuals to invest in safer structures, reorient existing public spending to prioritise day-to-day operations and maintenance such as mending pot-holes, keeping drains clear, etc. According to the report, undertaking these measures does not necessarily require governments to spend more but rather to spend better.

"This report presents necessary evidence and a compelling case for our client countries to reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters so that they can develop in sustainable and cost-effective way," said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick.

The report emphasizes that it is the vulnerable, not the rich, who face the brunt of natural disasters compounded by often distorted policies. There were 3.3 million deaths from natural hazards in the past 40 years. Nearly one million people died in Africa’s droughts alone.

"This report arrives when so many disasters have already happened this year and affected millions of people in Haiti, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and elsewhere," said Margareta Wahlstrom, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for disaster risk reduction. "We hope that the report will help governments to better understand the added value of disaster risk reduction policies so that they can invest more in prevention and protect more people and their assets in the future."

The report also says that property damage between 1970 and 2008 totaled USD2,300 billion, with earthquakes and droughts causing most of the losses. Damages were disproportionally high in middle-income countries. Poor and middle-income countries suffer the most but the report emphasised that geography is not destiny.

One area where the report calls for more spending is on early warning systems, particularly weather forecasting. There have been many advances in predicting weather, with three-day accuracy now over 95 percent and more than half the seven-day forecasts correct. However, few countries have taken full advantage of this progress since many governments do not fund their hydro-meteorological services adequately.

"Warning people of impending hazards saves lives and livelihoods," said Michel Jarraud, World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General. "The report clearly shows that more can be done to take full advantage of many technological advances in predicting weather through investing in hydro-meteorological services.”

The report calls for governments to ensure that new infrastructure does not introduce new risk. Locating infrastructure out of harm’s way is one way of doing so. Where that may not be possible, the report proposes low-cost, multipurpose infrastructure, such as schools that double up as cyclone shelters, such as is being done in Bangladesh, or roadways which double up as drains as Malaysia has done.

Looking ahead, the report notes that growing cities and a changing climate will shape the disaster prevention landscape. “Growing cities will expose more people and property to hazards, but growing cities also suggest growing incomes, which means people are better able to adapt,” said Apurva Sanghi, the report’s team leader. “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.”

The report is the culmination of a two-year effort by 70 experts from various disciplines and institutions, primarily economists but also climate scientists, geographers, political scientists, and psychologists. It is funded by the GFDRR (, a partnership of 35 countries, as well as the ACP Secretariat, the European Commission, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, and the World Bank.

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