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World Risk Report 2012, United Nations University

The 2012 WorldRiskReport from United Nations University, similar to the 2011 World Risk Index before it, provides detailed analyses and information about disaster risk for countries throughout the world, based on countries’ exposure to hazards and vulnerability.  A definitive example of this would be the 2011 6.3 mag earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand that led to the loss of 187 lives, while the 2010 Haiti 7.0 mag earthquake in comparison led to a death toll of 220,000.  The financial loss of both earthquakes was 16 billion USD and 8 billion USD respectively.  If you look at the rankings of both countries in the report (Haiti ranked at 21 (high risk) and New Zealand at 122) you begin to understand why.

Haiti has a vulnerability rating of 73.54 percent and an exposure rating of 16.26 percent while New Zealand with a similar exposure rating of 15.44 percent, but with far more infrastructure in place for dealing with earthquake hazards has a vulnerability rating of 28.77 percent.  New Zealand’s lack of capacity to adapt (30.39 percent) is also much lower than that of Haiti, which is 67.48 percent.  The lesson here is that while large-scale hazards cannot be prevented, losses can be reduced with adequate preparation and adaptive measures, however, this also takes time to implement and financial resources often unavailable in poorer countries. Read more

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.  Read more

A World Risk Index was released earlier this month by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany.  It uses four indicators to define countries at risk to natural disasters namely exposure, susceptibility, coping capacities and adaptive capacities.  It gives a ‘risk score’ for 173 countries around the world by combining their exposure to physical hazards with their vulnerability, including susceptibility along with coping and adaptive capacities.  It focuses on countries’ exposure to sudden hazards such as earthquakes, floods and storms, but also hazards that occur slowly over a long period of time such as drought and sea level rise that is becoming more frequent due to climate change.

According to the World Risk Index, the risk of disaster is highest for the Pacific island of Vanuatu, which was given a score of 32 percent.  The country with the lowest risk score is Qatar at .02 percent.  The UK came in at 138 mostly due to its ‘Lack of coping capacity’ (47.55 percent), but also ‘Lack of adaptive capacities (30.25 percent) and ‘Vulnerability’ (31.11 percent).  Japan appears to be the only developed country with an index of around 10 percent or more, making its risk index one of the highest (World Rank: 35) of all the countries analysed.  Read more

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