United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina
By Erik Kjaergaard and Jeremy Wetterwald
Costing disaster losses is a powerful tool to convince finance ministers and development planners about the necessity of investing in disaster risk reduction. While recurring disaster losses are a strong motivational factor for initiating DRR, they also risk skewing our picture of where to invest in DRR. Actual disaster losses only constitute a fraction of potential disaster losses, and hazard maps give a better understanding of hazardous locations than disaster impact areas.
In order to refocus on potential losses instead of incurred losses – and thereby advancing an understanding of risk accumulation instead of disaster impacts – we need to focus on geo-referenced GDP data as a proxy indicator for elements at risk. GDP data is critical for governments and development practitioners that are concerned about the sustainability of infrastructure investments and the necessity of safeguarding development gains. We believe our GDP-based exposure maps to floods and earthquakes have the potential to convince Ministers of Finance and development practitioners to invest in DRR before risk turns into emergencies.
While insurance companies are primarily concerned about absolute numbers (read: losses), development and DRR practitioners have good reasons to focus on relative numbers. The proportion of GDP exposed to natural hazards gives us an indication of economic resilience. Although big cities have higher values at risk from natural hazards, they also have greater capacities to recover from disaster events than locations with high relative GDP exposure and limited livelihood options.
The GDP-based exposure maps to floods and earthquakes in Bosnia Herzegovina illustrate what can be achieved with open source software and publicly available data sets.