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Monday, 09 March 2015 05:00

Think Globally to be Prepared Locally

Written by  Vicki Thomas

Column-3-9-web“Most disasters that could happen have not happened yet.”

These rather ominous words are taken from the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction Report 2015 (GAR). This report will be the focus at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan from March 14 - 18.

This GAR report was produced by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and it estimates that an investment of $6 billion that reduces the risk of disasters would save the world $360 billion in disaster-related losses over the next 15 years.

"The report is a wake-up call for countries to increase their commitment to invest in smart solutions to strengthen resilience to disasters," said Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN special representative on disaster risk reduction.

Consider this snippet of data from the GAR report:

The mortality and economic loss associated with extensive risks (minor but recurrent disaster risks) in low and middle-income countries are trending up. In the last decade, losses due to extensive risk in 85 countries and territories were equivalent to a total of US $94 billion.

Extensive risks are responsible for most disaster morbidity and displacement, and represent an ongoing erosion of development assets, such as houses, schools, health facilities, roads and local infrastructure. However, the cost of extensive risk is not visible and tends to be underestimated, as it is usually absorbed by low-income households and communities and small businesses.

It’s easy for us to detach ourselves from such information… It can be hard (almost impossible) to relate to and understand the impacts of disaster in low and middle-income countries. Yes, we see images on television and the Internet and we read articles about the challenges of rebuilding after cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and other disasters - but when you're not there it’s easy to “forget” or to not understand” the reality of the situation.

What we need to remember here is the trickle-down impact that these losses and the infrastructure rebuilding challenges have on a global scale. A small community suffers a disaster that wipes out schools, health care facilities, and the major employer - this results in children missing out on their education, people being untreated, and major job and economic loss - eventually people are forced to leave the community (often with very little) and attempt to rebuild their lives in a new community. The infrastructure is never rebuilt; the community becomes a ghost town” with only a few people remaining with no services, no jobs, no infrastructure, and no means of development. This kind of scenario is not an isolated one - this happens more than we realize - and the economic and human fall-out has a global impact.

So yes, those of us living in higher and upper-income countries need to pay attention and realize that the impacts of these losses are not isolated.

In a press conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said of the reports findings:

"We are playing with fire. There is a very real possibility that disaster risk, fueled by climate change, will reach a tipping point beyond which the effort and resources necessary to reduce it will exceed the capacity of future generations.”

Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

The upcoming conference in Sendai, Japan will be focused on adopting a new framework to succeed the 2005 Hyogo Framework - a 10-year plan that describes and details the work required to reduce disaster losses.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, said a new framework will be agreed upon that addresses technological categories such as nuclear hazards linked to natural disasters, with specific reference to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The new framework will also include health and health hazards driven by recent global epidemics and pandemics such as SARS and the continuing Ebola outbreak.

Both Ms. Wahlström, and the report’s author, Andrew Maskrey, spoke of the importance of investment with risk and resilience at the core. “We need to look at how we can get risk management fully hardwired into the DNA of development,” he said.

Mr. Maskrey said the world risks some $300 billion from disaster losses, which he said translates into $70 per working age person on this planet, which the report said “two months’ income for people living below the poverty line: an existential risk for people already struggling for survival on a daily basis.

“If we do not address risk reduction, future losses from disaster will increase and this will impact countries’ capacity to invest money in other areas such as health and education, explained Ms. Wahlström. “If we do not take the necessary measures now, it will be difficult to achieve development, let alone sustainable development.”

Looking and Thinking in Broader Terms

All too often we only look and think about the immediate. For business continuity and disaster recovery to be effective and purposeful - real thorough thought and planning must be undertaken. And most importantly, action and change must be introduced. While it might seem that the GAR report and the upcoming UN conference are detached from your organization and the needs of your employees - don’t forget that we are living and working in a global economy and the trickle-down effect is very real and tangible.

To read more about the upcoming conference and the GAR report use these links: