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Global assessment report launched: Landmark report on poverty risk in a changing climate

Source(s):  United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

Press Release: UN/ISDR 2009/4

Disaster Uncovered: Shedding new light on the causes and consequences of catastrophe

Bahrain- Global disaster risk is increasing worldwide due to unsafe cities and the combined impact of environmental destruction and climate change which jeopardize the lives of hundreds of millions of people says a landmark UN report published today.

Across low- and middle-income countries, recurrent disasters are destroying livelihoods, driven by a lack of government attention, unplanned urbanization and deplorable economic conditions. The Report notes that damage to housing from such persistent, low intensity events has quintupled since 1980.

“Disaster risk is rising in an alarming way, threatening development gains, economic stability and global security while creating disproportionate impacts on developing countries and poor rural and urban areas,” says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, launching the first Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction today (17 May 2009) in the Kingdom of Bahrain. “While we cannot prevent natural phenomena such as earthquakes and cyclones, we can limit their consequences. Pre-emptive risk reduction is the key. Sound response mechanisms after the event, however effective, are never enough.”

The document peels back the layers of disaster to reveal previously unidentified trends and data analysis, which will help refocus risk reduction priorities worldwide and push climate change adaptation even further up the international agenda.

The Report’s foundation is a massive database drawing together from a cross-section of UN, governmental, scientific and academic sources, the specifics of various hazard types – including droughts, floods, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis – over a 32-year period, 1975-2007. The data has then been ‘crunched’ to provide an unprecedented series of global disaster risk trends, maps and related tools on which the Report is based.

In particular the 200-page volume identifies three primary ‘risk drivers’ – unplanned urban development, vulnerable livelihoods and ecosystem decline – each underpinned by climate change. Left unchecked these are resulting in dramatic increases in disaster risk and poverty prevalence.

Among the Report’s key findings:
• In absolute numbers – and even assuming constant hazard levels – global disaster risk increased between 1990 and 2007, by 13 per cent (mortality) and 35 per cent (economic loss), in the case of floods; due to rapid world population and GDP growth in disaster-prone areas, in relative terms the trend is stable and may even be falling.

• Global disaster risk is highly concentrated in poorer countries with weaker governance. The most intensive risk is found in a very small portion of the earth’s surface. Just three countries – Bangladesh, China and India, each heavily populated – account for 75% of the mortality risk from floods.

• Further, global disaster risk is unevenly distributed, configured by a range of drivers related to a country’s economic and social development. Japan and the Philippines have roughly equivalent population exposure to tropical cyclones – even so, 17 times more people would die in the Philippines than Japan.

• Countries with small and vulnerable economies, such as many Small-Island Developing States and land-locked developing countries, have the highest economic vulnerability to natural hazards, low resilience to disaster and often extreme trade limitations which impair development. Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean has the greatest projected number of annual fatalities to tropical cyclones per million inhabitants in the world, with the Caribbean island of St Kitts and Nevis in third place.

• A build up of ‘low intensity events’ – where less than 50 people are killed and fewer than 500 homes destroyed – can be a sign of a major disaster ‘in waiting’. Frequent low intensity losses often highlight an accumulation of risks which will be realized when an extreme hazard event occurs.

• Deprived communities suffer a disproportionate share of disaster loss. Poor households are usually less resilient to loss and are rarely covered by insurance or social protection. Nearly two million houses in Mexico have been damaged by disaster since 1980, mainly in recurrent weather-related events – a disproportionate number in impoverished communities.

• Weather-related disaster risk is expanding rapidly both in terms of the territories affected, the losses reported and the frequency of events. In 12 countries across Asia and Latin America, 97% of municipal disaster loss reports were linked to weather-related hazard.

• Climate change is already changing the geographic distribution, frequency and intensity of weather-related hazard and threatens to undermine the resilience of poorer countries and their citizens to absorb loss and recover from disaster events. Climate change therefore magnifies the impact of disasters on people and assets in developing countries.

• The manner in which countries manage disaster risk reduction often fails to integrate risk into development.

• At both national and international levels, policy and institutional frameworks for climate change adaptation and poverty reduction must be better linked to those for disaster risk reduction.

• While many countries record significant advances in early warning systems and disaster preparedness since 168 governments adopted the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, this is far from the case with the crucial imperative of integrating disaster risk reduction measures into social, economic, urban, environmental and infrastructure planning and development.

But there is hope. The Report provides many solutions to mitigating disaster risk and is replete with examples of good practice where sound disaster risk interventions have changed people’s lives for the better.

It proposes a 20-point action plan to reduce risk, focusing on: stepping up efforts to respond to climate change; strengthening the economic resilience of small and vulnerable economies; supporting community initiatives; enhancing national and local governance; encouraging the adoption of high-level development policy frameworks; and, above all, investing in sustainable disaster risk reduction measures.

“This is the first global report ever which really provides any specific assessment of the low intensity extensive risks in developing countries,” says Margareta Wahlström, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction. “It shows we need a radical shift in development practices and planning and, as a priority, merging disaster risk reduction, poverty reduction and climate change adaptation into a single, coherent and innovative approach.

“Rather than an expense, investing in poverty and disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation should be seen as an investment in building a more secure, stable, sustainable and equitable future.”

The Report and its recommendations will be considered in detail at the forthcoming Second Session of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, to be held in Geneva, 16-19 June 2009.

Notes for Editors

1. The full Report and related documentation can be accessed from Sunday 17 May 2009 via:

2. Broadcasters can download the associated VNR in broadcast quality via the following link:

3. The Report is a collective effort of the ISDR partnership, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the ProVention Consortium, regional inter-governmental and technical institutions, national governments, civil society networks, academic/scientific institutions and many other specific contributors.

For media request please contact:

In Bahrain
Brigitte Leoni (UNISDR Geneva) at Tel: + 41 79444 52 62 (mob)

UNIC Bahrain

Nejib Friji (UNIC Bahrain) at
Tel +913 17 311 676 or +973 39 772 197

Ms. Lorelie Aumann, Admin. Assistant (UNIC, Bahrain),
Tel +973 17 311 676/319 444 or 973 39146846 (mob)

In Geneva
Charles Evans (UNISDR) at Tel: +41 22 917 8885

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  • Publication date 17 May 2009

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