New UN report outlines measures to prevent losses caused by natural hazards

11 November 2010 – Losses caused by natural disasters across the world could triple to $185 billion annually by the end of this century, even without taking into account the impact of climate change, according to the findings of a joint study by the United Nations and the World Bank unveiled today.

The consequences of climate change could lead to more losses with tropical cyclones alone causing damages worth between $28 billion and $68 billion, says the report, “Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention,” which was released in Washington.

The number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities could double to 1.5 billion by 2050, according to the report, which was prepared by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the World Bank.

The 250-page report outlines a number of simple measures to prevent death and destruction from natural hazards, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding.

Governments can, for example, make information about hazards and risks easily accessible, while providing land titles reduces the possibility of eviction or demolition, and encourages individuals to invest in safer structures.

Removing rent controls can restore incentives for landlords to maintain buildings, the report says, adding that refocusing existing public spending to prioritize day-to-day operations and maintenance, including repairing roads, painting steel bridges and keeping drains clear, would prevent damage.

“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,” said the World Bank Group President, Robert B. Zoellick. “We, and our partners in the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), stand ready to scale up efforts to assist disaster-prone developing countries in addressing this threat to the safety and livelihoods of poor people.”

The report stresses that it is the vulnerable, not the rich, who bear the brunt of natural hazards, whose effects are often compounded by distorted policies. It notes that there were 3.3 million deaths from natural hazards in the 40 years to 2010. Almost one million people died in Africa’s droughts alone.

“This timely report arrives when so many disasters have already happened this year and affected millions of people in Haiti, Pakistan, China, Viet Nam, Indonesia and elsewhere,” said Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction.

“We hope that the report will help governments 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,” she added.

Damage caused by natural hazards is particularly high in middle-income countries, the report notes. Poor and middle-income countries suffered the most, but the report emphasizes that “geography is not destiny” and calls for more spending on early warning systems, particularly weather forecasting.

“Warning people of impending hazards saves lives and livelihoods,” said Michel Jarraud, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) 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 most vulnerable countries in particular require strengthening of their observing networks and infrastructure to establish effective early warning systems to warn their populations against disasters,” he added.


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