“Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention”

  • Date:11 May 2011
  •  Geneva
Geneva, May 11, 2011 — On the two-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, experts from around the globe convened for a special event to present findings from the joint World Bank-United Nations report Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: the Economics of Effective Prevention—as part of the Third Session of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN ISDR) Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

With images of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan still able to shock with their power, the report could not be more timely. Even more so because the number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities could double to 1.5 billion by 2050.

Earthquakes, droughts, floods, and storms are natural hazards, but excessive death and damage is unnatural –the result of human failure to act. Every disaster is unique, but each exposes weakness in preparedness and prevention, by governments and by people themselves.

“A deeper questioning of what happened, and why, could prevent a repetition of disasters,” says the report, a two-year collaboration of climate scientists, economists, geographers, political scientists and psychologists.

What does effective prevention look like?

Information is key to prevent disasters effectively, as Vanessa Rosales Ardón, President of the National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Response in Costa Rica, explained at the event: . “We have learned in Costa Rica that we must understand the risks we face and prepare accordingly,” Rosales Ardón said. “Undertaking hazard modeling and mapping has been a fundamental step in setting up efficient preparedness plans in Costa Rica.”

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 the report.

"The report clearly shows that more can be done to take full advantage of many technological advances in predicting weather through investing in hydro-meteorological services. The most vulnerable countries in particular require strengthening of their observing networks and infrastructure to establish effective early warning systems to warn their population against disasters," said Michel Jarraud, World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General.

The report, which has attracted unparalleled praise from six Nobelists, calls for governments to ensure that new infrastructure does not introduce new risk. Locating infrastructure out of harm’s way is one way to achieve this. Where that may not be possible, the report proposes low-cost, multipurpose infrastructure, like the schools that also act as cyclone shelters in Bangladesh, or the roadways that double up as drains in Malaysia.

“This thought-provoking report demonstrates that prevention doesn’t always have to be costly. Perhaps this is why it has been successful in bringing high-level policy-makers and the disaster management community together,” said Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Bin Abdul Aziz, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department of Malaysia, at the event. “Integrating disaster prevention with development planning and strategies is crucial. At the end of the day, development is about preventing disasters, and preventing disasters is about development.”

The report was funded by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, a partnership of 35 countries and six international organizations, including the World Bank, which helps developing countries reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards and adapt to climate change.

For more information please go to: www.worldbank.org/preventingdisasters

Please direct enquiries and requests for interviews to Anita Gordon agordon@worldbank.org, mobile: +41 76 219 2565 or +1 202 436 4791.

Last updated: 04 December 2020