Every year millions of people worldwide suffer from disasters in the aftermath of extreme natural events. But whether it be earthquakes, cyclones or floods, the risk of a natural event turning into a disaster only partly depends on the force of the natural event itself. The framework conditions of a society and the structures in place to respond quickly and to provide assistance in the event of emergency are just as significant. The more fragile the infrastructure network, the greater the extent of extreme poverty and inequality and the worse the access to the public health system, the more susceptible a society is to natural events. Extreme natural events cannot be prevented directly, but countries can reduce disaster risk by fighting poverty and hunger, strengthening education and health, and taking preparedness measures. Those who build earthquake-proof buildings, install and use early warning systems and invest in climate and environmental protection, are better prepared against extreme natural events.
The annual editions focus on a main topic and include the WorldRiskIndex. Since 2018 the report is published in cooperation with the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV) of the Ruhr-University Bochum. The WorldRiskReport should contribute to look at the links between natural events, climate change, development and preparedness at a global level and to draw future-oriented conclusions regarding relief measures, policies and reporting.
Until today, access to sufficient clean and safe water varies widely around the world, with the poorest often having to pay the most. Water shortages do not only affect a country’s agriculture and health care, also important development processes fall short when children are sent to fetch water instead of going to school. Extreme natural events and the effects of climate change intensify water-related problems as they push long-established water supply processes to their limits.
Therefore, providing water security means two things: on the one hand, guaranteeing people access to water supply, and on the other hand, protecting people from the dangers of water. In disaster situations, ensuring a secure water supply often becomes even more difficult than in times of non-crisis.
The international community thus faces major challenges if it is to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6, which is to guarantee all people worldwide universal access to clean and affordable water by 2030. However, rapid and consistent action is indispensable in order to counteract the multiple impacts of water scarcity and to increase the resilience of societies to disasters.
The WorldRiskIndex states the risk of disaster in consequence of extreme natural events for 180 of the world’s countries. It is calculated on a country-by-country basis through the multiplication of exposure and vulnerability. Exposure covers threats of the population and other certain protected entities due to earthquakes, cyclones, floods, droughts and sea-level rise. Vulnerability encompasses the societal sphere and is comprised of three components, which are weighted equally in the calculation:
- Susceptibility describes the structural characteristics and framework conditions of a society and indicates the likelihood of suffering from harm in an extreme natural event.
- Coping comprises various abilities of societies to be able to minimize negative impacts of natural hazards and climate change through direct action and the resources available.
- Adaptation includes measures and strategies dealing with and attempting to address the negative impacts of natural hazards and climate change in the future. Adaptation, unlike coping, is understood as a long-term process that also includes structural changes.
The concept of the WorldRiskIndex, including its modular structure, was developed together with the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS). In 2017 and 2018, the WorldRiskIndex was revised on the basis of new findings. Changes have been made at the level of the indicators. A total of 27 indicators, which are available in publicly accessible data sets, feed into the Index. Since 2018, the Index is calculated by the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict (IFHV) of Ruhr-University Bochum. Among other things, the WorldRiskIndex serves as a guidance for decision makers and identifies fields of action for disaster risk reduction.
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
- very low
0.31 - 3.29
3.30 - 5.49
5.50 - 7.51
7.52 - 10.61
- very high
10.62 - 56.71
- no data
Calculation of Risk
Child Protection and Children's Rights
Logistics and Infrastructure
The city as a risk area
Health and Healthcare
Environmental degradation and disasters
Governance and civil society
Children are especially vulnerable
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.