Taking Steps to Reduce the Impact of Natural Disasters

by Matt Ball on November 12, 2010

The UN and World Bank have released a 250-page report today that details effective preparation for natural hazards, and warns that the economic damages caused by natural disasters are on the rise. In the report titled “Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention,” there is an outline of steps to help reduce deaths and economic impacts from such natural hazards as earthquakes, hurricanes, and flooding. The word “UnNatural” in the title refers to deaths and damages, pointing out that while the hazards are natural, the impacts can be planned for and prevented by both individual and government action. The report focuses on cost-effective prevention, compiling examples of different approaches and outcomes from around the world.

Among the steps encouraged are:

  • open data about hazards and risks, and the promotion of personal planning
  • land titles to encourage the investment in safe structures
  • a focus of public spending on maintenance and repair to keep infrastructure functioning, such as clearing drains and maintaining bridges
  • taking advantage of many technological advances in predicting weather through investing in hydro-meteorological services
  • undertaking the long but important process of mapping hazards, vulnerability, and modeling risk
  • implementing better building practices

The report takes a largely economic view of the impacts of natural disasters around the world, relating the costs to public health, education, and welfare. The impacts of climate change are also mentioned, but not yet factored into predictions because adequate models are not yet available to predict impacts at the local level.

This report is a timely effort, given the increased pressures on urban infrastructure and the trend toward greater urbanization. The report takes a long-term practical approach to preparation, encouraging policy makers to take measured approaches such as prioritizing the most helpful infrastructure investments and the creation of early warning systems, that will have high payoffs.

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