Natural Disasters and the need for Disaster risk reduction
Natural disasters impact millions of people worldwide, every year. They destroy our physical, biological and social environment, and can have permanent consequences for those affected. Climate change and disasters know no boundaries. Hurricanes, floods, landslides, drought, and more impact young and old, rich and poor, black and white, liberals and conservatives, developed and developing nations.
By 2030, 60% of the world’s population will live in cities with 1.4 billion facing the highest risk of exposure to a natural disaster (UN).
Natural disasters fall into three broad groups (Earth Times). For some, like hurricanes and floods, we can actively try to limit our impact on the environment to reduce the severity of the event, but others are unavoidable. However, for ALL, we can plan and prepare in order to reduce the damage on the people and communities affected by them :
1. Those caused by movements of the Earth. These occur with the minimum amount of warning and include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. They are difficult to predict and impossible to stop. All that can be done is to take appropriate action to limit damage and loss of life after they occur.
2. Weather related disasters. These will include hurricanes, tornadoes, extreme heat and extreme cold weather. There will usually be some degree of advanced warning, but since weather is unpredictable, nothing can be done to stop these disasters from developing once the weather system develops. These are particularly effected by global warming and the rising oceanic temperature.
3. Floods, mudslides, landslides and famine. These are usually the consequence of extreme weather events, or are supplementary to other natural disasters. They also can be triggered by irresponsible human action in the environment.
2019 and 2020 have shown the world communities are susceptible to all sorts of natural disasters including the wildfires in Australia and North America, Hurricane Delta, and the flooding in Sudan. Communities are being ravaged by these disasters and are proving yet again we need to better prepare for such occurrences as they become more common side effects of global warming. Being unprepared leads to astronomical losses:
Death toll: Natural disasters kill an average of 60,000 people per year globally (The Zebra).
Land loss: In all of 2019, 50,477 wildfires were reported in the United States, burning about 4.66 million acres of land (The Zebra). In Australia, more than 12.6 million hectares burned in 2020 (ABC).
Wildlife Eliminated: Over 1 billion animals were killed in the Australian bushfires of 2020 (ABC). As The Amazon rainforest burned, 2.3 million animals lost their lives and millions more lost their habitats (IT).
Marginalized and already neglected populations suffer disproportionately: Understandably, socially disadvantaged communities exposed to hazards have to date received the most attention from specialists. This is because hazards tend to harm predominantly those social groups that were already disadvantaged before a disaster. But groups of people living in places where the overall socio-economic status is higher can also be vulnerable to hazards, and little is known about these groups.
The assumption that all members of affluent societies are somehow immune to disasters seems to be broadly shared, perhaps because vulnerability may be less obvious. For instance, research from the 1990s demonstrated that homeless people in Tokyo (at the time one of the wealthiest cities in the world) were far more vulnerable to earthquake hazards than the average resident. Problematically, emergency planning by government overlooked this ‘invisible’ sub-population. In this case, the ‘ecological fallacy’ meant there was a tendency for emergency planning activities to be directed toward a higher socio-economic class (The Conversation).
Total Estimated Loss:
Just in the last 40 years, natural disasters have caused more than 3.3 million deaths and $2.3 trillion in economic damages, much of which is uninsurable loss (UN).
Hurricane and Flood Insurance Payout (The Zebra):
Hurricane Katrina was one of the costliest disasters in modern history, costing the insurance industry some $82.4 billion.
Harvey ranks as the second-most costly hurricane to hit the United States since 1900 with about $125 billion in damages.
Financially Unprepared Americans (The Zebra):
The average American may not have the financial resources on hand to weather a major natural disaster.
Only 25.8% of respondents have saved more than $2,000 to cover expenses in the event of a severe storm (including thunderstorms), and 20.5% of people have no emergency funds saved at all. One-fifth (20.5%) of Americans said they could not afford to purchase enough insurance to fully protect their property.
Most of those surveyed (64.4%) expressed concern that a severe storm would damage their home in the next year, while 22.2% of people believed buying insurance is a waste of money because natural disasters will not affect them.
Addressing the effects of climate change and preparing for the worst (Live Science):
'Resilience means not only preparedness for a threat, but also the ability to absorb, recover from or adapt to one,' - Gene Whitney, Committee on Increasing National Resilience to Hazards and Disasters.
Convince the general public that natural disasters CAN happen to them so they actively prepare in their own homes and communities. Society needs to develop norms of safety, starting with education in schools. If people learn, at a young age, to understand the risks, they could better prepare for them.
Improve building materials for new homes and buildings. Materials meant to withstand wind and water are only slightly more expensive and could protect communities from hurricane damage. 'Every $1 spent on hazard mitigation saves society an average of $4' - Carl Hedde, senior vice president and head of risk accumulation at Munich Re America.
At the federal level, the STRONG Act (Strengthening the Resilience of Our Nation on the Ground Act), would develop a national extreme-weather resilience plan.
At the state level, the Federal Emergency Management Agency requires states to have hazard mitigation plans in order to receive federal aid. Some state plans now specifically address hazards due to climate change.
Local, State, and Federal Governments
Emergency Response Services
The Red Cross
National Weather Service
Home and Property Owners
Federal Emergency Management Agency
Local and State Governments
Apps and Programs that use data to better prepare for and recover from disasters:
OneConcern uses data and machine learning to help cities better plan for and recover from natural hazards. In one platform, OneConcern combines physical science with the power of AI, to quantify impact and map critical dependencies of natural disasters, driving resilience among companies and communities – everywhere.
aWhere's AI-supported platform offers real-time weather-based agricultural intelligence to farmers, companies, development agencies, and governments, providing insight and predictive analytics that effectively de-risk farming anywhere on Earth.
Get your family and home ready for a flood. The American Red Cross Flood app is the complete solution you need to understand and prepare for flooding and all that comes with it. With interactive quizzes and simple step-by-step advice it’s never been easier to be ready!
FloodWatch allows users to monitor rivers and streams throughout the United States. Add USGS gauges to your favorites for quick monitoring of current gauge height, precipitation, and flood stage. By leveraging data from the US Geological Survey and National Weather Service, FloodWatch presents the most recent and historical river heights, precipitation totals, discharge, and flood stage data.
First Street Foundation is a non-profit research and technology group defining America’s Flood Risk. First Street Foundation has built a team of leading modelers, researchers, and data scientists to develop the first comprehensive, publicly available flood risk model in the United States.
Take control of your property search from the start by pre-screening the area with Envirobility, or learn about environmental hazards that exist in the communities you live or work in. We created an easy-to-use mapping tool that brings together various environmental reporting datasets so you can uncover environmental risks from your desktop.
Majority of the world’s cities highly exposed to disasters, UN DESA warns on World Cities Day- https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-cities-day-2018.html
Understanding the root causes of natural disasters- https://theconversation.com/understanding-the-root-causes-of-natural-disasters-80017
Natural Disasters- http://www.earthtimes.org/encyclopaedia/environmental-issues/natural-disasters/#:~:text=Natural%20disasters%20fall%20into%20three,earthquakes%2C%20volcanic%20eruptions%20and%20tsunamis.
Why People Don't Learn from Natural Disasters- https://www.livescience.com/38036-why-people-unprepared-for-natural-disasters.html
Sudan Flooding- https://disasterphilanthropy.org/disaster/sudan-flooding/
Natural Disaster Statistics- https://www.thezebra.com/research/natural-disaster-statistics/
The size of Australia's bushfire crisis captured in five big numbers- https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2020-03-05/bushfire-crisis-five-big-numbers/12007716
As The Amazon Rainforest Burned, 2.3 Million Animals Died In Just 7.7 Percent Of Its Total Area- https://www.indiatimes.com/technology/news/as-the-amazon-rainforest-burned-2-3-million-animals-died-in-just-7-7-percent-of-its-total-area-376635.html