Disaster Uncovered: Shedding new light on the causes and consequences of catastrophe

May 27, 2009

Disaster Uncovered: Shedding new light on the causes and consequences of catastrophe

Kathmandu, 27 May 2009 - Global disaster risk is increasing worldwide due to unsafe cities and the combined impact of environmental destruction and climate change which jeopardize the lives of hundreds of millions of people says a landmark UN report launched today in Kathmandu.

Across low and middle-income countries, recurrent disasters are destroying livelihoods, driven by a lack of government attention, unplanned urbanization and deplorable economic conditions. The Report notes that damage to housing from such persistent, low intensity events has quintupled since 1980.

'This report is another reminder of the high vulnerability of Nepal's people to natural hazards,' said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nepal, Mr. Robert Piper during the launch of the first Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction today (27 May 2009) in Kathmandu. 'The political tremors of the last few weeks in Nepal will look like a storm in a tea-cup if tremors like those of the 1934 earthquake repeat themselves any day soon. Will this week's new Government be the first to put aside the necessary resources and sustained political attention to start reducing the vulnerability of our homes, schools and hospitals' This is an issue crying out for bi-partisan leadership. The international community will surely help, but they need to know the Government considers this a high priority.'

The document peels back the layers of disaster to reveal previously unidentified trends and data analysis, which will help refocus risk reduction priorities worldwide and push climate change adaptation even further up the international agenda.

The Report's foundation is a massive database drawing together from a cross-section of UN, governmental, scientific and academic sources, the specifics of various hazard types ' including droughts, floods, cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis ' over a 32 year period, 1975-2007. The data has then been 'crunched' to provide an unprecedented series of global disaster risk trends, maps and related tools on which the Report is based.

In particular the 200 page volume identifies three primary 'risk drivers' ' unplanned urban development, vulnerable livelihoods and ecosystem decline ' each underpinned by climate change. Left unchecked these are resulting in dramatic increases in disaster risk and poverty prevalence.

The report's launch in Kathmandu takes place at the same time as an
inter-agency technical mission visits the country. Experts from the UN, World Bank, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Asian Development Bank gathered this week in Kathmandu to coordinate their strategies to help Nepal address its risk reduction challenges.

Among the Report's key findings:

- In absolute numbers ' and even assuming constant hazard levels ' global disaster risk increased between 1990 and 2007, by 13 per cent (mortality) and 35 per cent (economic loss), in the case of floods; due to rapid world population and GDP growth in disaster-prone areas, in relative terms the trend is stable and may even be falling.

- Global disaster risk is highly concentrated in poorer countries with weaker governance. The most intensive risk is found in a very small portion of the earth's surface. Just three countries ' Bangladesh, China and India, each heavily populated
' account for 75% of the mortality risk from floods.

- A build up of 'low intensity events' ' where less than 50 people are killed and fewer than 500 homes destroyed ' can be a sign of a major disaster 'in waiting'. Frequent low intensity losses often highlight an accumulation of risks which will be realized when an extreme hazard event occurs.
- Weather-related disaster risk is expanding rapidly both in terms of the territories affected, the losses reported and the frequency of events. In 12 countries across Asia and Latin America, 97 per cent of municipal disaster loss reports were linked to weather related hazard.
- Climate change is already changing the geographic distribution, frequency and intensity of weather related hazard and threatens to undermine the resilience of poorer countries and their citizens to absorb loss and recover from disaster events. Climate change therefore magnifies the impact of disasters on people and assets in developing countries.

- The manner in which countries manage disaster risk reduction often fails to integrate risk into development.
- While many countries record significant advances in early warning systems and disaster preparedness since 168 governments adopted the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015:Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters, this is far from the case with the crucial imperative of integrating disaster risk reduction measures into social, economic, urban, environmental and infrastructure planning and development.

But there is hope. The Report provides many solutions to mitigating disaster risk and is replete with examples of good practice where sound disaster risk interventions have changed people's lives for the better.

It proposes a 20 point action plan to reduce risk, focusing on: stepping up efforts to respond to climate change; strengthening the economic resilience of small and vulnerable economies; supporting community initiatives; enhancing national and local governance; encouraging the adoption of high-level development policy frameworks; and, above all, investing in sustainable disaster risk reduction measures.

The Report and its recommendations will be considered in detail at the forthcoming Second Session of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, to be held in Geneva, 16-19 June 2009.

Notes for Editors

The Report is a collective effort of the ISDR partnership, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the ProVention Consortium, regional inter-governmental and technical institutions, national governments, civil society networks, academic/scientific institutions and many other specific contributors.The Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction was unveiled in the Kingdom of Bahrain on 17-18 May 2009 by Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General.

Contact information

For media request please contact:
In Kathmandu

Sangita Khadka
Development Communications Officer
Tel: 00-977-1-5523200 ext: 1077


Ram Babu Shah
National Information Officer
Tel: 00-977-1-5523200 ext: 1600

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