photo: Smanewerkende Hulporganisaties/Creative Commons
A new report by the UN and the World Bank throws some more stats on the pile: By the end of this century, financial loss caused by natural disasters alone will rise to $185 billion every year, even without factoring in the impact of climate change. Add in those, Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention says, and the tally climbs even higher. Damage from tropical cyclones alone tack on an additional $28-68 billion annually. By 2050 the number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities (remember the growing trend towards urbanization) could double, to 1.5 billion people.
As pretty much every single other report on climate change and natural disaster damages has emphasized, it's the poor nations of the world that will suffer the most in the wake of such events, but this one also notes that damage from natural disasters is particularly high in high- and middle-income nations as well.
The report also emphasizes though that "geography is not destiny" and they are plenty of things that nations can and should do to mitigate the effects of natural disasters: Everything from better infrastructure maintenance, better land ownership rights enforcement, to better weather forecasting and early warning systems.
US navy supplying humanitarian relief in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, photo: DVIDSHUB/Creative Commons
The New York Times highlights an interesting part of the report's findings, the discrepancy spent on humanitarian relief aid versus prevention:
From 2000 to 2008, the agencies believe, rich governments devoted 20 percent of all aid spending to disaster relief work. By contrast, donor agencies spent just 0.1 percent of the global aid budget to natural disaster prevention in 2001, increasing to 0.7 percent by 2008 and not counting normal development spending that may make countries less vulnerable to disasters.
That highlighted section really points out something deeper and unfortunate in human nature. Whether we are talking about natural disasters, climate change, personal issues such as our health, or even about how the TSA reacts after each new terrorist threat, the tendency is to react after something bad has happened rather than prevent (to the greatest degree possible; it's obviously not always possible) and reduce risk beforehand.
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More on Natural Disasters:
If We Can Attribute Natural Disasters to Climate Change, Who Could Victims Sue for Damages?
Natural Disasters in Latin America Blamed in Part on Climate Change
Amazing Natural Disasters Caused by Climate Change
Can Animals Foresee Natural Disasters?