standard Reducing economic vulnerability to disasters in developing countries

A report from The Climate and Development Knowledge Network looks at how to reduce economic vulnerability to disasters in low and middle-income countries throughout the world.  It provides some detailed recommendations for planning for disasters and reducing vulnerability along with conveying a comprehensive understanding of the current and future challenges for reducing economic losses to disasters in less developed countries.

While last year was the costliest on record for disasters this was due to the fact that some of the largest disasters of 2011 actually affected more developed countries the most, such as Japan (See 2011 worst year on record for economic losses due to earthquakes).  2011 revealed that developed countries are also vulnerable, but because their GDP can usually withstand losses from even large-scale disasters by comparison developing countries have more to lose especially in regards to climate change.  The macro-effects of disasters are ‘much more pronounced’ in lower-income countries, according to the report.  In many cases these losses come down to vulnerability — exposure to hazards and risks. 

Global trend in disaster risk, exposure and vulnerability. Vulnerability — Green, Risk — Purple, Exposure — Blue.

Countries that have a high exposure to natural hazards are more likely to experience disaster both in terms of loss of life and economic damage.  Many countries well-known for seismic hazards such as India, Pakistan, Nepal and China in many cases simply don’t have the necessary infrastructure to reduce vulnerability and harm.  What is needed are more effective ways for dealing with exposure and vulnerability to hazards, including up-to-date assessments of risks countries are exposed to along with ways to unite government and economic risk planning with disaster risk management on the ground.

While the report seems somewhat preoccupied with top-down approaches to disaster risk management it does give some prime examples such as how the Caribbean islands (See Insurance and disasters in the developing world) are dealing with financial losses cause by disasters.  It discusses risk assessment through future outlooks and modelling, but interestingly beyond the list of references at the end, the term ‘science’ isn’t mentioned once throughout its 16 pages.  There appears to be little argument for more scientific research for better understanding hazards in parts of the world that could perhaps contribute the most to disaster risk management.  But perhaps it is simply in the background of  some of the conceptual frameworks that it does manage to illustrate quite well.

The report cites a warning given by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Financial Initiative who said in 2006 ‘losses from extreme weather events linked to climate change are doubling every 12 years’, this combined with other disasters from seismic hazards to disease outbreaks that take place in low and middle-income countries could lead to disaster losses exceeding economic growth.  Countries in South Asia are particularly vulnerable accounting for more than 49 percent of global annual losses since the 1970s, according to the report.  The year 2008 was particularly devastating where Asian countries lost a total of 269 billion USD because of disasters.

South Asia trend trend in disaster risk, exposure and vulnerability. Vulnerability — Green, Risk — Purple, Exposure — Blue.

As emerging economies continue to develop they can increase their exposure to hazards because of high urban migration and intensive use of natural resources or people settling in more high risk areas such as along coastlines.  In estimating future disaster losses, analysis provided by insurance and reinsurance companies shows that increases in exposure combined with the ‘changing frequency and intensity of climate extremes’ shows that uninsurability could result if risks are not managed properly.  But while risk financing products have become increasingly attractive according to the report the IPCC says there is only ‘medium confidence’ in risk sharing at local, national, regional and global scales to increase resilience to climate extremes.  Providing incentives alone to reduce risk to unusual events needs to be integrated with policy and economic planning in place that deal with risks that occur more frequently.

Latin America and Caribbean trend in disaster risk, exposure and vulnerability. Vulnerability — Green, Risk — Purple, Exposure — Blue.

Dynamic, up-to-date risk assessments integrated with economic projections along with an updated, accessible ‘national risk atlas’ that provides accurate information about the probability of certain disasters occurring and their associated vulnerability are certainly useful.  Public-private partnerships such as the Global Earthquake Model potentially provide much needed information on large scale hazards that often occur across national borders.  Managing vulnerability through building codes and better legislation to increase resilience to seismic hazards is also highly important.  These along with other recommendations made by the report are worth disseminating further within all countries exposed to hazards, regardless of their level of development.  But future policy planning regarding vulnerability to hazards and disaster risk management needs to take place in parts of the world most exposed to both frequent and unusual disaster events as well as more common risks, especially food and water scarcity that the poorest countries deal with on a regular basis.

References and Further Reading

Tackling exposure: Placing disaster risk management at the heart of national economic and fiscal policy. Climate & Development Knowledge Network

Building Rural Resilience in Seismically Active Areas. IHRR

Insurance and disasters in the developing world. IHRR

Confronting Disaster Losses. Science

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