Whether it be an earthquake or a tsunami, a cyclone or floods, the risk of a natural event turning into a disaster always depends only partly on the force of the natural event itself. The living conditions of the people in the regions affected and the options available to respond quickly and toprovide assistance are just as significant.
Those who are prepared, who know what to do in the event of an extreme natural event, have a greater chance of survival. Countries that see natural hazards coming, that are preparing for the consequences of climate change and are providing the financial means required will be better prepared for the future. The WorldRiskReport should contribute to look at these links at a global level and draw future-oriented conclusions regarding assistance measures, policies and reporting.
As an essential part of the WorldRiskReport, the WorldRiskIndex, created by United Nations Universitys Institute for Environment and Human Security, indicates the risk of disaster in consequence of exreme natural events for 171 countrys.
Risk in a state of flux
Until recently, humans were rarely the direct cause of extreme natural events. But as a result of their interference in the natural world, they have increased the potential risk massively. The destruction of mangrove forests and coral reefs – along the Southeast Asian coastline, for example – has reduced levels of protection against tidal waves and flooding. The clearing of mountain forest intensifies the rate of soil erosion and, consequently, the scale of flooding, as has been witnessed in Pakistan. Climate change and the increasingly frequent occurrence of “climate extremes” exacerbate this threat on an ongoing basis and increase the vulnerability of societies. The WorldRiskReport’s concept of “risk” is not solely based on the probability of occurrence of natural hazards and their severity, rather it also considers human living conditions and the development status of society. Preparedness and the ability to react and help quickly determine whether extreme natural events become disasters. The WorldRiskIndex, as a component of the WorldRiskReports, is created on the basis of a nuanced understanding of disaster, and calculates the risk posed to 171 countries worldwide by means of a multiplication of risk and vulnerability. This allows for the parameters of the risk assessment to be expanded. The present report for 2017 is a five-year analysis of the reports from 2012 to 2016 that prepares the groundwork for the further development of the WorldRiskIndex. As a general rule, the following applies to the risk level of all countries: A nation that possesses sufficient financial resources and functioning national and civil-societal structures, that confronts recurring natural events with an adaptive strategy and that is prepared to invest in measures to adapt to changing conditions such as weather and climate extremes, will be less adversely impacted by natural events.
Humanitäre Logistik bis zur „letzten Meile“
Grafik in 3 Schritten
The WorldRiskIndex calculates the risk for 171 countries worldwide on the basis of the following four components:
- Exposure to natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, drought and sea-level rise
- Vulnerability as dependent on infrastructure, nutrition, living conditions and economic circumstances
- Coping capacities as dependent on governance, preparedness and early warning measures, access to healthcare, social and material security
- Adapting capacities with respect to impending natural events, climate change and other challenges.
The concept of the WorldRiskIndex, including its modular structure, has been developed by both practical experts on the ground, and scientific experts located further afield. The calculation of the index, which was performed by the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University (UNU-EHS) in the years 2011 to 2016 and commissioned by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, relies on datasets that are available worldwide. The world’s nation states form the reference parameter for the index.
- The WorldRiskIndex serves to provide answers to the following questions:
- How probable is an extreme natural event and will it impact human beings?
- How vulnerable is the population of a country to natural hazards
- To what extent can societies cope with acute disasters?
- Is a society taking disaster preparedness measures against natural hazards that are expected in the future?
The representation produced using the index and its four components provides answers to these questions and brings into focus both the problems and the resulting fields of action.
Worldmap of Risk
Average 2012 – 2016
- very low
0,08 - 3,46
3,47 - 5,46
5,47 - 7,30
7,31 - 10,39
- very high
10,40 - 36,72
- no data
Calculation of Risk
Logistics and Infrastructure
The city as a risk area
Health and Healthcare
Environmental degradation and disasters
Governance and civil society
Challenges until last mile
The prevailing conditions of logistics and infrastructure have a crucial impact on whether an extreme natural event leads to a disaster or not. Fragile infrastructure, such as dilapidated buildings, can have grave consequences because they pose a direct threat for the local population. Moreover, it delays the effective potential for those affected to help themselves and impedes humanitarian relief provided by the local authorities or from abroad. The difficulties that relief agencies face are mostly on the “last mile” of the logistics chain: Organizing transportation despite ruined roads or bridges, and ensuring fair distribution when, for example, there is a scarcity of water, food and shelter.
Information technology like the Internet, mobile phones or more recent technology such as drones or 3D printers, can support humanitarian logistics – that is, if they have not been impaired by a collapsed local infrastructure. But technology-based solutions aside, there still remains a host of challenges: examples include supporting self-help measures, coordinating the involved actors, making use of local resources, and the controversial issue of cooperation with the private sector and armed forces.
Disasters endanger global “Zero Hunger”
The international community aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. To achieve this goal there is still a lot of work to do. In many countries disasters, wars or political instability in the past have been the main driver of increased vulnerability and food insecurity. Disasters can have devastating impacts on a country’s food security – not only in the short term, but also long after they have occurred. According to the World Food Programme, the agrarian sector is especially affected by extreme natural events. They destroy harvests, stocks, and transport routes, and therefore above all the livelihoods of those depending on agriculture. In addition the frequency and extent of these natural food security risk factors are more and more aggravated by climate change.
However, the reverse is true as well. It is not unusual for extreme natural events to turn into disasters because the population affected is particularly vulnerable due to a poor food situation. In the worst case, the combined effect of disasters and food insecurity leads to a fatal downward spiral, with the people hit slipping from one crisis into the next. Hence, a world without hunger would mean fewer disasters.
Chances and Challenges of urbanization
Urbanization is one of the megatrends of our times – and as such it bears a vast complexity. While the pull of the cities often creates problems for rural regions in the industrialized countries, massive urban population growth is posing great challenges for the metropolises in many developing countries. For often enough, the growth of cities exceeds the capacity of authorities to develop and maintain adequate social and physical infrastructure. One of the most pressing results is the formation of marginal settlements in which urban dwellers lack basic civil rights and often compete for ill-paid jobs and low food availability. They are especially vulnerable towards natural hazards.
But urbanization does not produce exclusively negative effects on vulnerability, it can also create new chances for strengthening coping and adaptive mechanisms. In principle, the high density of buildings and other infrastructure in cities allows for an efficient implementation and operation of protective measures such as dyke systems or pumping stations. At the same time, cities concentrate large numbers of people, putting them into direct reach of central disaster management facilities such as ambulance services or fire brigades. Given the thematic focus “The city as a risk area”, the WorldRiskReport 2014 separately assesses the risk for urban areas.
Critical interaction between disasters and poor health care
Whether it be drought, cyclone, earthquake or floods, when an extreme natural event hits a village or a town, the vulnerability of the society crucially depends on the population’s health status as well as the health care and it’s functioning in crisis and disaster situations. But in times of the global financial crisis, the health systems worldwide are being subjected even more strongly to economic principles. Often humans facing an already unacceptable vulnerability suffer the most from these austerity and privatization measures.
However, the causal link works both ways. Not only do health and healthcare determine the disaster risk, but disasters have a negative impact on a society’s state of health if they overstrain or undermine the prevailing structures for the provision of care in its healthcare system. Futhermore, extreme natural events can cause direct health problems like heart and circulation problems and contribute to an increase and spread of disease carriers. A comprehensive approach to strengthening health systems and care therefore shows to be indispensable for disaster preparedness and response.
Functioning ecosystems as natural resilience factor
Intact ecosystems like for example forest and riparian wetlands or mangroves can significantly reduce disaster risk by reducing the susceptibility towards extreme natural events. They contribute to nutrition, income and wellbeing. In addition to food, they can also provide medicine and building materials, or they can represent new sources of income, for example via eco-based tourism. Meanwhile extreme natural events can have considerable effects on the environment and cause damage for ecosystems. Cyclones can pull over thousands of trees and destroy coral reefs or floods can contribute to erosions and damage solum.
In turn, the destruction of the environment and its natural protective function in pursuit of economic interests increases the risk of disaster in the wake of extreme natural events. Flooded coastal villages and washed away beaches whose natural protective belt of mangroves has been chopped down are just some examples among many others. This interaction between environmental destruction and disasters still gets too little attention by politics and science. Environmental protection and a sustainable handling of the environment should be strengthened from the local to the global level and included in disaster preparedness.
Fragile statehood as a risk driver
Humans can only influence to a limited degree, whether and with what intensity, natural events are to occur. But states can considerable influence the extent of a disaster by their governance in disaster preparedness and response. Especially states of weak governance are often not able to implement consistent strategies and measures and maintain mechanism to reduce the disaster risks. The development of disaster preparedness plans is often prevented by the low qualification or sheer non-existence of state personnel The vulnerability of the population towards extreme natural events is consequently high.
The relief aid and development work faces immense challenges, given the coincidence of weak governance and extreme natural events. In the complex interaction between governance and disasters, civil society can play an active role by demanding responsible and effective state policies and starting initiatives for disaster risk reduction. Nevertheless it is certain that both government and local civil society play a crucial role in disaster preparedness and that each must be strengthened accordingly.