Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2015
Making development sustainable: The future of disaster risk management

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Part II - Chapter 7
7.1 From Ratnapura to the Chao
Phraya River
Where risk awareness is limited, those exposed to hazards have limited motivation to invest in reducing their risk levels.
It is highly improbable that any resident of the District of Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, is unaware of disaster risk. Since 1990, Ratnapura has reported a staggering 2,601 extensive disaster events, an average of over 100 per year, which have damaged or destroyed 23,000 homes, affected over a million people and eroded essential local infrastructure.1 Ratnapura is a highly disaster-prone district which is particularly affected by floods and landslides (OXFAM, 2006

Oxfam International. 2006,Disaster Management Policy & Practice: Lessons for Government, Civil Society, & the Private Sector in Sri Lanka, Oxfam Humanitarian Field Studies. October 2006.. .
). Thirteen per cent of its low-lying areas are generally affected by floods during heavy rains (UN-Habitat, 2009). Moreover, increases in annual rainfall and temperature variations have led to increased annual landslide occurrence over the last decade (Rathnaweera, et al., 2012).
Ratnapura is only one of thousands of municipalities around the world that experience recurrent extensive disasters. In general, the residents of these localities are fully aware of the risks they face. But their choice as to where to live and work is often constrained by social and economic factors, including a lack of access to safer land, the need to be close to employment opportunities, insufficient investment in risk-reducing infrastructure by local and national authorities, and sometimes discrimination. With constrained opportunities, people faced with recurrent extensive risk often have no choice but to live with that risk and periodically recover from disaster loss and damage.
In contrast to Ratnapura, it is probable that very few of the companies that built factories on the floodplains of the Chao Phraya River in Thailand before the massive flooding in November 2011 were fully aware of the risk they faced. Flood risk in the basin had never been modelled, and the scale of the disaster took global businesses, the government and the insurance industry by surprise. Rippling through global supply chains, the disaster affected production around the world and resulted in massive losses. The total loss of operating profit to Toyota and Honda alone was estimated at US$1.25 billion and US$1.4 billion, respectively (UNISDR, 2013a

UNISDR. 2013a,Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: From Shared Risk to Shared Value: the Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, Switzerland: UNISDR.. .
Despite the scale of these losses, very few companies have decided to relocate to less hazardous areas of Thailand or to other countries. A survey conducted among Japanese businesses in Bangkok in 2012 showed that almost 80 per cent had decided to stay in the same locations, compared to 16 per cent that had already moved or were planning on moving to other locations in Thailand and 6 per cent that planned to move overseas (Government of Japan, 2012

Government of Japan. 2012,Floods in Thailand that caused a significant impact on trade environment, etc, of neighbouring nations/regions, including Japan. Section 3.. .
). All of the businesses in the area are now fully aware of the flood risks. While it may not always be a matter of choice, particularly due to financial constraints (ibid.), for most businesses the value creation opportunities provided by the location outweigh any contingent liabilities posed by future floods.
Awareness, identification, understanding and estimation of disaster risks are all clearly fundamental underpinnings of disaster risk management. If those exposed to hazards are unaware of the risks they face, it is difficult to see how or why households, businesses or governments would invest in reducing their risk levels.
Investment in public awareness, education and risk assessment has increased. However, these efforts have rarely taken into account the social and economic constraints on disaster risk reduction or the opportunities sacrificed by not addressing that risk. As a result, the increasing volume of risk information available has not generally been translated into risk knowledge.
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