Gov’ts urged to invest in making countries resilient to disasters

By BONG D. FABE, Correspondent

ASIAN and Pacific governments, including the Philippines, and their development partners have been urged to adopt a coordinated approach to disaster resilience especially since disaster losses are increasing more quickly in Asia than in other regions.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB), in its 188-page report Investing in Resilience: Ensuring a Disaster-Resistant Future, urged governments to strengthen disaster resilience. It also encouraged them to offer disaster risk financing instruments such as calamity funds, tax credits and catastrophe bonds.

The report, released on January 31, 2013, stressed that risk financing is key to building resilience or “the ability of countries, communities, businesses, and individual households to resist, absorb, recover from, and reorganize in response to natural hazard events, without jeopardizing their sustained socioeconomic advancement and development.” But this should be incorporated within an integrated disaster risk management framework that includes, among others, climate change adaptation.

Bindu Lohani, ADB’s vice president for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development said in a video interview in the bank’s website (http://www.adb.org/news/videos/why-asia-and-pacific-need-disaster-risk-financing) that in Asia and the Pacific, only about 5 percent of losses to natural disasters are insured whereas “in developed countries, about 40% of the losses there are insured or reinsured.”

The report noted that most Asian countries have disaster handling capabilities, but few have adequate provisions for financing post-disaster losses and rehabilitation, which is badly needed because disaster losses are expanding at a faster rate in Asia due to environmental degradation, climate change, demographic pressures, and widespread failure to consider disaster risk in designing and locating many critical development investments.

“With the kind of natural disasters we are expecting in Asia, we need to be a little bit serious; the governments need to start making a plan on it, they need to make is as part of their development both as individual development as well as a long term plan,” Lohani said.

He added that natural disasters are eroding Asia’s economic gains, which often hit the poorest hardest such as the Philippines, whose annual losses to natural disasters are estimated at US$1.6 million or a loss of 0.8% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

He pointed out that in a span of 40 years, from 1970 to 2010, 1.7 million natural disaster-related deaths were recorded in Asia, accounting for 51% of the global total.

“Another thing that is very striking is that the losses over a period of time [are] increasing. And if you compare the losses due to natural disasters with the GDP increase, the losses seem to be more rapidly increasing than the growth of the GDP; this is scary,” he said.

“As the global region most vulnerable to climate change, we no longer have a choice but to focus on disaster risk management,” he added.

The Investing in Resilience: Ensuring a Disaster-Resistant Future report stressed that natural disasters are threats to sustainable economic growth while noting that Asia and the Pacific has achieved considerable growth over the past four decades, “expanding by an average of 6.3% per year in real terms in the 1970s, 7.3% in the 1980s, 6.7% in the 1990s, and 7.4% in the first decade of the 21st century.”

“Asia and the Pacific have made considerable gains in poverty reduction and progress toward the achievement of a number of the Millennium Development Goals, including reducing the number of people living on less than US$1.25 (purchasing power parity) per day. However, these gains may not be sustained in hazard-prone areas unless resilience to natural hazard events is considerably strengthened for the poor and near-poor,” it said.

According to the report, successful investment in resilience embodies principles of integrated disaster risk management (IDRM), entailing a systematic set of activities that collectively aims to avoid, lessen, or transfer the potential adverse effects of all hazards, specifically through the integration of climate change adaptation (CCA), disaster risk reduction (DRR), disaster preparedness, post-disaster relief, early recovery, reconstruction, and disaster risk financing (DRF) goals under a single framework.

The report also pointed out that “solutions to DRR already exist, but they are not being applied sufficiently” because of one essential missing ingredient — vision. “A vision will help bring the knowledge and practice gaps into alignment and provide greater likelihood of appropriate action.”

However, the report stressed that even if vision is present, if countries and their development partners “continue to regard investment in resilience and investment in development as two separate issues, disaster risk will continue to accumulate and losses to expand, threatening long-term inclusive, sustainable growth in the region.”

Thus, investments for a natural disaster resilient future “should be undertaken within the context of a broader development framework, regarding strengthened resilience as an integral part of development goals, approaches, and individual initiatives.”

ADB said in the report that the five key sectors that government and its partners should invest in to have a disaster resilient future are (1) livelihoods, where investment in resilience of the poor and near-poor can lead directly to poverty reduction; (2) land use planning, where the integration of disaster risk considerations into the existing process represents a fundamental first step in strengthening resilience; (3) transport, as the siTting and satisfactory functioning of such infrastructure plays a central role in determining the location and continuing productivity of many other development investments; (4) education, where investment in resilience translates into a direct transgenerational investment in the future of a country; and (5) housing, a centerpiece of social fabric and human security.

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