An Asian Development Bank (ADB) report titled ‘The Rise of Natural Disasters in Asia and the Pacific-Learning from ADB’s experience’ has highlighted the increased frequency of natural disasters (particularly storms and floods) in recent decades. In the period 2009-2009, 150 major floods were recorded worldwide – triple the number recorded in the 1980s. The frequency of the most severe kind of storms (Category 5) also tripled in the 2000s.
According to one climate change vulnerability index, seven Asian cities are classified as being at extreme risk
Asia and the Pacific region have unfortunately come to know this trend all too well, with natural disasters four times more likely to affect those living in these regions than those in Africa, and 25 times more likely than those living in Europe. According to one climate change vulnerability index, seven Asian cities are classified as being at “extreme risk” – Dhaka, Manila, Bangkok, Yangon, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City and Kolkata. These regions also account for approximately half of the $1 trillion in damage caused by natural disasters globally since the early 1990s.
As the global average temperature rises, heat waves, storms, flooding rains and droughts become more extreme; sea levels rise; and landslides, floods, pests and fires are more frequent. Rapidly increasing populations in many developing Asian countries have virtually forced millions of people to move to land that is marginal at best, on low lying coasts and flood-prone areas of cities.
Bangladesh is one example of developing countries doing model work in preparing for hazards that can be predicted. In setting up community-led early warning systems, public awareness campaigns and communal facilities, Bangladesh has significantly reduced death rates from annual tropical cyclones. Following the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, Indonesia’s efforts laid the groundwork for a more effective disaster response by basing the agency responsible for reconstruction away from its capital, Jakarta. Similarly, the Pakistan Government created a federally coordinated disaster risk system and integrated risk reduction plan following a succession of events including the 2005 earthquake.
The United Nations estimates that for every dollar spent on prevention, at least $4 can be saved on disaster recovery expenses
The United Nations estimates that for every dollar spent on prevention, at least $4 can be saved on disaster recovery expenses. Governments in Asia and the Pacific need to recognise that natural disasters are increasingly endemic in the region, and that their economic impact can virtually derail growth and development. Recently, the disaster risk management approach has evolved to incorporate the challenges of climate change. Investment in building resilience to natural disasters will become far-reaching if it becomes part of development policies, strategies, plans and assistance programs.
Reducing disaster risk must take social vulnerability into account, as many people in developing countries often have little option other than to live in hazardous areas such as active earthquake zones. Both the United Nations Children’s Fund and International Strategy for Disaster Reduction report that death rates for women from natural disasters are much higher than for men. More than 60% of the victims of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008 and 67% of the victims of Indian Ocean tsunami in Banda Aceh in 2004 were women.
The ADB has shifted its support for flood risk from a focus on control in the 1990s to a far more comprehensive approach within a river basin framework. Structural measures (such as improving river discharge carrying capacity) and non-structural measures (such as flood warning systems, hazard mapping and restricting settlement in flood prone areas) are some of the interventions that have been considered in the framework. The $116 million South Java Flood Control Sector Project completed in 2006 significantly reduced both the human and economic impacts of flooding. Approximately 300,000 residents benefitted from the protection and raising of riverbanks and widening roads, among other measures.
The ADBs support also improved Indonesia’s flood forecasting and early warning systems. In supporting both telemetry, which was used to transmit river level information, and more reliable satellite based systems; the lead-time for flood warnings was increased. Water level information was recorded at rainfall stations and the information transferred to a base station using a dedicated radio frequency. Flood warnings could then be generated more than 12 hours in advance.
China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand require the highest level of investment for disaster risk reduction
Based on the experience of many counties in Asian and Pacific regions, the level of investment required to reduce natural disaster losses resulting from a 1% probability event is approximately 20-25% of the cost of the damage that event would cause. China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand require the highest level of investment for disaster risk reduction. If the likelihood of an event can be reduced from 1% to 0.01%, investment savings of approximately $6 billion can be realised.
The ADB report highlights that awareness of natural disaster risk reduction measures remains very low in Asia and the Pacific, and the understanding that many threats affect the entire region rather than just individual countries is also low. By raising risk awareness through policy dialogue with Governments, and demonstrating how concerned agencies can address the risks, the ADB can change the perception that prevention is a luxury or something that only needs attention after a natural disaster strikes.