Natural disaster costs to triple, warns World Bank

The report, Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters, says that the estimated cost of disasters is independent of climate change-related effects, and as such could increase further still. It warns that increased tropical storms that are expected to result from climate change could add another $70bn to the annual bill on their own.

The report’s four main findings all suggest that earlier policy decisions can lead to cumultive failures during weather events. For example, poverty could cause people to denude hillsides, which could in turn lead to mudslides during extreme rains. Analogously, many different measures can complement each other in helping to mitigate the effects of natural disasters.

The report also warns that exposure to natural events will rise in cities, although it argues that greater exposure need not make people more vulnerable, as when cities grow in size incomes should also increase, making people more readily adaptable.

Prevention is often easy and cost-effective, if only governments would adopt some common sense, the document suggests, outlining some key policies that are relatively simple and low cost.

Making information readily available is one ‘low-hanging fruit’ that should factor heavily in government policy, the report suggests. An example of this is the use of early-warning systems that are becoming increasingly effective, with 95 per cent of three-day forecasts now considered accurate, said the report.

However, the World Bank warned that many governments are still failing to invest in these systems, which could drastically offset the potential damaged from extreme weather events. 

The document also advises governments not to intervene too heavily in land and housing markets, predicting they will develop organically in a way that helps mitigate risk. And it says that governments must provide adequate infrastructure and other public services, while emphasising the importance of adaptable multi-purpose infrastructures. Schools that can also serve as cyclone shelters can help to minimise the humanitarian impact of extreme weather events, for example.

Public oversight and the development of strong, functional institutions is the final main policy recommendation of the report.

“Public involvement and oversight ensure that good ideas are considered even if they are unusual,” it says, arguing that the repression of institutions such as the press, neighbourhood associations and engineering groups can lead to system failure during natural disasters. “Such oversight also encourages communities to experiment with, and to devise, their own sustainable arrangements that promote prevention,” it adds.

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