This paper describes the existence of "Black Elephant" events—hazards that are known and understood but not addressed. As the most disaster-prone region in the world: a person in the Asia-Pacific region was five times more likely to be affected by a natural hazard compared to someone outside of the region between 1970 to 2016. As such, acknowledgment of Black Elephants is fundamental to the future resilience of this rapidly developing region. Disastrous events are often proclaimed as a Black Swan—an unlikely and unexpected occurrence, but a closer inspection that they are often not so. Individuals, and in particular scientists, can make a difference by defining and drawing attention to these hazards before they occur: we should not allow known risks to be ignored.
The findings indicate that the key first step towards mitigating a Black Elephant event is to define and draw attention to the event. Policymakers must act on risk contributors that are within human control such as exposure and vulnerability. Organizations, agencies, and individuals must recognize the characteristics of a Black Elephant event rather than relegate them as Black Swans. Accordingly, such moves also acknowledge that actions are possible to mitigate such hazards. Policymakers must acknowledge the risks, but also averted disasters: Celebrating effective policy decisions against former Black Elephant events that overcame complex and challenging risks should be encouraged. Policies must measure how human efforts are changing the risk, rather than how random fluctuations in hazard occurrence change risk. With this change in metric, acknowledgment of Black Elephants can become institutionalized. Further findings from scientific research must break out of disciplinary and academic silos to ensure that results find their way to the public sphere as real changes in policies, building codes, or public messaging. Finally, disasters exacerbate existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. Reducing pre-disaster vulnerability is to mitigate disaster impacts. The Black Elephants of Asia will be uncovered in the coming decades; whether policy actors decide to acknowledge them will shape their impact.