2.5 Emerging risks
Countries are faced with a range of emerging risks associated with extremely low-probability hazards such as volcanic eruptions or extreme space weather, and new patterns of vulnerability associated with the growing complexity and interdependency of the technological systems on which modern societies depend, including: energy, telecommunications, finance and banking, transport, water and sanitation. These new vulnerabilities multiply disaster risks and can trigger cascading and concatenated system breakdowns at different scales which are difficult to model, but which can exponentially magnify impacts.
2.5.1 Volcanic eruptions affecting the global weather systemThe eruption of Huaytaputina in 1600 showed that the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere can experience slight winter warming and marked summer cooling due to the spread of volcanic ash and gas from the tropics by global air circulation patterns (Pyle, 1998
). Of the more than 550 active volcanoes in the world, 154 erupted between 1990 and 1999 (Siebert and Simkin, 2011
), and the direct risks associated with these can be estimated. In Europe, for example, there is US$87 billion of exposed value at risk to the 10 volcanoes that potentially affect population centres of at least 10,000 inhabitants (Spence et al., 2009
). Despite a 30 percent probability of an eruption occurring in the 21st century the size of that of Tambora (Indonesia) in 1815 (Sparks, 2010
), it remains a challenge to calculate or quantify the human or economic risks arising from volcanic eruptions affecting the global weather system.
Click here to view this GAR paper.
2.5.2 Extreme space weatherGeomagnetic storms represent another low-probability, sequential risk whose impacts are difficult to measure. These storms are characterized by severe disturbances of the upper atmosphere and near-Earth space environment, caused by the magnetic activity of the sun. Such disturbances have always occurred but are a growing hazard for modern societies and the global economy, which are increasingly dependent on interconnected electric power grids and telecommunications and other systems affected by these disturbances. For example, Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid collapsed during a geomagnetic storm in March 1989, leaving millions of people without electricity for up to nine hours (National Research Council, 2008
Although the probability of such blackouts is low, the potential for cascading impacts in vulnerable systems that depend on power grids is increasingly high, such as banking and finance, government services, transport and communications, and drinking water. The evolving connectedness and interdependency of these systems increases the probability of joint failures and means that the real risk is difficult to calculate and quantify, and is often underestimated. The 1859 Carrington super storm was the most spectacular geomagnetic storm in recent history but occurred in a world without interdependent networks and systems. If a similar storm were to occur today, the increased vulnerability could lead to unprecedented impacts.
2.5.3 Unexpected climate extremesTwo recent cyclones, a Category 2 storm that struck Santa Catarina province in Brazil in 2004 and Cyclone Gonu, which made landfall in Oman and the Persian Gulf in 2007, occurred in locations that had never in recorded history experienced storms of such magnitude (Figure 2.33). Contemporary populations have been unprepared for such extremes as the 2003 European heat wave or the 2010 Russian forest fires, which expose emerging or hidden vulnerabilities.
Global climate change may generate climate extremes for which there may be no historic precedent. Although it is still not possible to attribute the cause of individual events such as these to climate change, stochastic modelling can provide governments with insights into possible scenarios (ECA, 2009
Available at http://www.mckinsey.com/App_Media/Images/Page_Images/Offices/SocialSector/PDF/ECA_Shaping_Climate%20Resilent_Development.pdf.
2.5.4 Interactions between physical and technological hazardsOn 11 March 2011, Japan declared an ‘atomic power emergency’ when a devastating earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and caused a radioactive leak (Wald, 2011
). This synchronous failure is posing major challenges to Japan, but its impacts are already being felt globally, in capital markets and in the nuclear energy industry..
Other such difficult-to-quantify risks are associated with major fires at industrial and petrochemical facilities. In addition to the effects of explosion and fire, such disasters may include the release of toxic gases. The red sludge from a burst bauxite storage reservoir in October 2010 near the Hungarian town of Ajka is one example of the consequences of poorly managed storage of highly toxic industrial and mining waste. Nine people were killed and more than 7,000 affected by the million cubic metres of spilled toxic sludge, and the full environmental and economic damage are not yet known (EM-DAT, 2011c
Many similar chemical storage sites are also located in areas prone to other physical hazards. The remnants of the Soviet nuclear arms industry in Central Asia, for example, are located in an area prone to earthquakes, floods and landslides (Figure 2.34) (Sevcik, 2003
; Hobbs, 2010
). Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are both subject to earthquakes, landslides and flooding that could magnify an already high risk of contamination (Sevcik, 2003
; Hobbs, 2010
). The compound risks posed by the proximity of nuclear tailings to natural hazards in Central Asia are particularly severe, but they are not unique. Mining and toxic-waste storage occurs in hazard-prone areas in many other countries, often without adequate risk identification or risk management. If such activities are initiated in countries with weak risk governance capacities, these compound risks will only increase.
GAR 2011 Contributing PapersCepeda, J., Smebye, H., Vangelsten, B., Nadim, F. and Muslim, D. 2010. Landslide risk in Indonesia. . Prepared by the International Centre for Geohazards, Norwegian Geotechnical Institute. [View]
Corrales Leal, W. 2010. Overcoming trade and development limitations associated to climate change and disaster risk. . [View]
ERN-AL, 2011. Probabilistic modelling of disaster risk at global level: Development of a methodology and implementation of case studies. Phase 1A: Colombia, Mexico, Nepal. Prepared by the Consortium Evaluación de Riesgos Naturales – América Latina. [View]
Freire, C. 2011. Extensive Risk of the Impact of Disasters. Prepared by Macroeconomic Policy and Development Division Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)[View]
Gupta, M. 2011. Filling the governance ‘gap’ in disaster risk reduction. Background Paper prepared by the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN). [View]
Herold C.; Pedduzzi P., 2011. Testing the GAR risk methodology at the national level : the case of earthquakes in Indonesia. Prepared by the Global Change & Vulnerability Unit UNEP/GRID-Europe[View]
Hobbs, C. 2010. Current and future risks posed by unprotected radioactive waste sites in Central Asia. [View]
IDMC (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre). 2010. Using disaster data to monitor disaster-induced displacement. . [View]
Kent, R. 2010a. Disaster risk reduction and changing dimensions and dynamics of future crisis drivers. [View]
Mansilla, E. 2010. Riesgo urbano y políticas públicas en America Latina: La irregularidad y el acceso al suelo. [View]
Moreno, A. and Cardona, O.D. 2011. Efectos de los desastres naturales sobre el crecimiento, el desempleo, la inflación y la distribución del ingreso: Una evaluación de los casos de Colombia y México. [View]
Nhu, O.L, Thuy N. T. T., Wilderspin, I. andd Coulier, M. 2011 A preliminary analysis of flood and storm disaster data in Viet Nam. UNDP CO, Hanoi, Viet Nam.[View]
O'Donnell, I. 2010. Addressing the grand challenges of disaster risk: A systems approach to disaster risk management. [View]
OSSO (Southwestern Seismological Observatory). 2011b. Análisis de manifestaciones de riesgo en America Latina: Patrones y tendencias de las manifestaciones intensivas y extensivas de riesgo. . [View]
OSSO (Southwestern Seismological Observatory). 2011a. Extensive risk analysis for the 2011a Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Metodología para la identification de Umbrales. [View]
Serje, J. 2010a. Extensive and intensive risk in the USA: A comparative with developing economies. [View]
Serje, J. 2010b. Preliminary extensive risk analysis for the Global Assessment Report 2011. [View]
Sparks, S., 2011. Global Volcanic Risk. Bristol University, UK. [View]
Tarazona, M. and Gallegos, J. Children and disasters: Understanding differentiated risk and enabling child-centered agency. Brighton, UK: Children in a Changing Climate Research. [View]
Tonini, M., Vega Orozco, C., Charrière, M., and Tapia, R. 2010. Relation between disaster losses and environmental degradation in the Peruvian Amazon. Lausanne, Switzerland:Institute of Geomatics and Risk Analysis, University of Lausanne. [View]