UN, World Bank Launch Report on the Economics of Disaster Prevention

11 November 2010: The World Bank and the UN have released a joint report titled "Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention," which analyzes disasters from an economics perspective.

The report stresses the need for prevention to reduce countries' vulnerability to natural hazards in order to enable their sustainable and cost-effective development. It outlines a number of measures to prevent death and destruction from natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding. It estimates annual global losses from natural disasters could triple to US$185 billion by the end of this century, without calculating the impact of climate change. Climate change could then add US$28-68 billion more in damages each year from tropical cyclones alone.

The report estimates that the number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities could double to 1.5 billion by 2050. The report emphasizes that it is the vulnerable, not the rich, who face the brunt of natural hazards, often compounded by distorted policies. It further underscores that almost one million people have died in Africa's droughts alone.

One area in which the report calls for more spending is early warning systems, particularly weather forecasting. It notes that few countries have taken full advantage of progress in this area and that many governments do not fund their hydro-meteorological services adequately. It also urges governments to ensure that new infrastructure does not introduce new risk, including by locating infrastructure out of harm's way. Where that may not be possible, the report proposes low-cost, multipurpose infrastructure, such as schools that can double as cyclone shelters, as in Bangladesh, or roadways which can double as drains, as in Malaysia.

The report also highlights that in overall share of GDP, small island economies are the hardest hit by natural disasters. Many of the 25 countries with damages exceeding 1% of GDP are small island countries, and many are 'repeaters,' showing their need for prevention more than relief.

The report is the culmination of a two-year effort by 70 experts from various disciplines and institutions. The experts are primarily economists but also climate scientists, geographers, political scientists and psychologists. The report was funded by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), a partnership of 35 countries, as well as the African, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) Secretariat, the European Commission, the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR), and the World Bank. [The Report] [GFDRR website]