Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vulnerability to natural disasters quantified

Andrew Wagaman in New Europe: Countries most vulnerable to natural disasters are not necessarily the ones facing the most environmental degradation, a new report finds. According to WorldRiskReport 2012, prepared by the UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and released on 11 October, the risk of any given country depends on the economic, social and institutional conditions of its society. The report ranks the risk of 173 countries based on an index that quantifies structural susceptibility, coping capacity and adaptation capacity along with exposure to natural hazards.

Areas especially vulnerable include Oceania, Southeast Asia, and especially Central America and the Caribbean. The South Pacific island of Vanuatu ranked the most at-risk, while Qatar ranked the least. Of the EU member states, the Netherlands is the most vulnerable, ranking No. 51 overall.

UNU-EHS director Jakob Rhyner emphasized that the rankings should not be seen as an instrument of reproach but one of public awareness and, hopefully, support. “We must go a step further and address the root causes of vulnerability,” Rhyner said. “If a country is hit, how well can it expect to support itself?”

Released two days before the International Day for Disaster Reduction (13 October), the report argues that both politics and sciences have paid too little attention to disaster risk. The costs of natural disasters continue to rise – in 2011, about 366 billion dollars were spent on them. This is not just because of progressing environmental degradation but also bad decision-making. Earthquakes cannot be prevented, but vulnerability to them can be reduced.

The index’s four components contain 28 indicators within them. Susceptibility is measured by things like access to sanitation, water and food, poverty and GDP per capita. Coping capacity is measured by governance strength, medical services and types of available insurance. Adaptive capacity – the capacity to learn from past disasters – is measured by literacy rates, gender parity in education and government and environmental protection....

The Taichung skyline, shot by Howard61313, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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