In natural disasters, less resilient poor most at risk

In the news: Poverty is a major factor in the death of victims of natural disasters, including those that are climate related, according to a United Nations report released on Oct. 13 in connection with the International Day for Disaster Reduction. The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction found that of the 1.35 million people who died in more than 7,000 disaster events, 90 percent came from low- and middle-income countries.

Back story: While earthquakes and tsunamis kill more people overall, the U.N. says “stealth” climate disasters are close behind as rising sea levels and global warming worsen extreme weather events. In fact, the organization says in 15 of the last 20 years climate-related disasters claimed more lives than earthquakes. But while natural hazards strike countries regardless of national income, it found the severity of the impacts are directly related to income and development levels, particularly when it comes to deaths: the poorer the country, the higher the number of disaster deaths there are likely to be.

Adaptation angle: Disaster damage could be substantially reduced with more resilient critical infrastructure and basic services, including health and educational facilities, says the U.N. That’s the intention of its Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which calls for greater public and private investment in resilient infrastructure.  “Let us move from a culture of reaction to one of prevention and build resilience by reducing loss of life,” said U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon in a Disaster Reduction Day message.

Questions to ask

  • Do poorer countries suffer in specific kinds of disasters, and why?
  • What kinds of deadly climate-related disasters are emerging? Mostly storms and flooding? Or heat waves and drought-related food shortages as well?
  • Has the number of disasters increased or just their impact?
  • What kind of resilient infrastructure would protect against particularly deadly disasters?
  • Where might finances come from to pay for building resilient, life-saving infrastructure?
  • How much of a factor for impending disasters is the lack of early warning systems or weather forecasting?
  • What preventative land-use policies are possible? Improved building codes? Investment in earthquake-resistant infrastructure such as for housing, schools, health facilities and work places?
  • What role does urbanization play in the increase in disaster fatalities in poorer countries?
  • To what extent does a state of conflict in a country affect its vulnerability to losses from disasters?
  • What kinds of political and social pressures are at play when it comes to investing in preventative measures for relatively rare disaster events, as compared to expenditures needed for more immediate societal needs?
  • Are low-cost solutions, such as elevated structures in flood zones, as effective as more expensive approaches, like sea walls?
  • What are examples of poorer countries successfully planning and-or implementing disaster prevention plans?
  • What are the biggest risks for higher-income countries, such as from hurricanes or vulnerability for nuclear facilities?

Reporting resources

  • Review the “Poverty & Death: Disaster Mortality 1996-2015” report, released Oct. 13 by the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. The UNISDR’s 22-page report includes a graphic showing the 20 deadliest disasters of the last 20 years, sections on trends in climate-related and other disasters, and mortality by income and types of disasters. Also see a 2015 report on “The Human Cost of Weather Related Disasters.”
  • Visit the main UNISDR website, which includes a range of explainers, reports and resources on building resilience against natural hazards and climate change impacts.
  • Get familiar with the Sendai Framework, a 15-year agreement adopted in 2015 to outline the role of governments and others in reducing disaster risk.
  • Check different countries’ disaster resilience initiatives via the U.N. Development Program’s database.
  • Learn more about the International Day for Disaster Reduction, through its web portal, which lists events and resources.
  • Mine the resources of PreventionWeb, a participatory web platform for the disaster risk reduction community, which includes extensive sections on disaster risk and the Sendai framework, themes like social impact and resilience, nearly a dozen-and-a-half different hazards, and an interactive country and region map.
  • Identify the key risks that threaten nations in a G-7 report on A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks. The document explores risk factors and recommends resilience actions, as well as provides country case studies, a fact book, risk briefs, suggested reading and an events list.
  • Explore the Nansen Initiative, an inter-governmental effort to help protect those displaced across borders due to natural disasters. The site includes an archive of dozens of backgrounders and statements, plus policy reviews and research.
  • Scan two World Bank-related reports: (1) Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management, which looks at flood risk assessment and the development of low-risk infrastructure, (2) Which Coastal Cities Are at Highest Risk of Damaging Floods?, which outlines the cost of urban losses from flooding in coastal cities.

Dig deeper on the disaster response story using the dozens of related resources in the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation database.

Know of other disaster-response-related resources we should include in our database?

Posted by A. Adam Glenn on Oct. 24, 2016