The cost of catastrophe: Why putting a price-tag on disaster is our best protection
By Catherine Gamper, OECD Public Governance Directorate
OECD countries have gotten much better at preparing for and responding to disasters, and fatality rates have gone down. What we’re not so good at, however, is reducing the economic fallout from natural disasters. Because of budgetary constraints, countries give investment in risk prevention less priority, and the cost of disaster is mounting.
Minimising disaster-related costs requires knowledge about the type of hazards that are common in a certain area, the likelihood they will occur, and the intensity their occurrence is expected to be. OECD countries have the technical capacity to understand well-established hazards. Results of such hazard analyses are widely available online thanks to high-resolution mapping tools.
Even with a better understanding of a region’s recurring hazards, though, decision-makers lack a systematic understanding of risks; that is, the extent to which identified hazards threaten and expose populations and assets such as homes, and transport and communications infrastructure to potential damage. Risk assessment includes the estimated costs that can ensue from a well-established hazard and the geographical and economic radius of damage.
When governments have poor visibility on how much damage a hazard might cause, it is hard for them to make effective policy decisions. Good-quality information about prevailing risks helps local governments make better decisions about land use: they may decide to convert built areas into grasslands that function as flood expansion zones, for instance. It also helps governments make effective investments in physical prevention measures.