Thursday, March 24, 2011

Saving lives and minimizing destruction in natural disasters

Relief Web: On Monday specialists convened at the China Center for Economic Research (CCER) for the China launch of a joint World Bank-United Nations report showing how preventive measures can lower vulnerability to natural hazards such as earthquakes, storms, floods and droughts. Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: the Economics of Effective Prevention, first released last November, estimates that the number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities could double to 1.5 billion by 2050. Damages from disasters can be catastrophic, as the world is witnessing now in the tragic aftermath of Japan's quake and tsunami. However, prevention is critical, a lesson that surely saved many lives in Japan.

According to the report, by 2100, even without climate change, damages from weather-related hazards may triple to US$185 billion annually and factoring in climate change could push costs even higher. In the case of tropical cyclones it would add another US$28-68 billion, says Natural Hazards. But the report argues that much can be done to reduce the toll from such hazards—even in the face of increased risk from climate change.

…"The report could not be timelier, when various countries—both developed and developing—are suffering from the devastating impacts of natural hazards," said Justin Yifu Lin, the World Bank's Senior Vice President and Chief Economist. "Preventing and managing disasters is as much a development issue as a humanitarian one. That fundamental understanding underpins this analysis, which goes a long way in changing mindsets towards a culture of prevention."

A central message of the report is that "prevention pays, but you don't always have to pay more for prevention". Cost-effective preventive measures include greater access to hazard-related information and regulatory changes to remove distortions, such as abolishing rent and price controls and providing secure titles to encourage better repair and upkeep of buildings. The report also proposes cost-effective, hazard-specific infrastructure: for example, schools that double as cyclone shelters or roadways that double as drains. Sometimes increased spending is warranted—for example to develop and maintain early warning systems—and "even modest increases, and greater sharing of data internationally, can have enormous benefits", says the report…

Collision between troop train and passenger train, Almonte, Ontario, Canada. December 1942

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