Disaster Risk Management in South Asia - A Regional Overview
The increased frequency and intensity of disaster events is well documented and understood by most stakeholders across the world. Governments, international institutions, nonprofit organizations, and the private sector, among others, have committed significant resources to raising awareness of the exposure and vulnerability of populations to natural hazards such as earthquakes, cyclones, excess rainfall, and other events. In the 1970s, an awareness increased for good reason, worldwide, approximately 69 natural disasters were annually recorded; by the 2000s, this figure had increased to 350 per year1 . Similarly, annual economic losses that averaged approximately US$12 billion per year in the 1970s have grown to approximately US$88 billion per year since 2000.2 The same patterns have been developing in the South Asia Region (SAR), where the number of disasters per year has quadrupled over the past four decades. Resulting damages have accumulated to over US$25 billion in the past five years alone3 .
Despite increasing disaster risk in SAR, awareness and understanding of this risk among individuals and governments remains low. As an emerging topic, exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards and their consequential impacts are not yet at the forefront of development agendas.
This is the case in SAR despite the fact that mitigating the unforeseen consequences of disasters is important for achieving development goals. The challenge lies in demonstrating results from investments that increase resilience to hazards. The costs of investing in hazard resilience are clear; however, the benefits must be measured not by the infrastructure built or the services delivered, but rather by the lives saved and damages averted during a disaster.
Only through a clear understanding of disaster risks can policy makers prioritize increasing their population’s resilience to these events.
Enhancing resilience to hazards in SAR is critical given the continued, steady path of economic development. Positive growth trends have increased the number of people and physical assets in harm’s way, but have not been coupled with investments in effective risk management practices in most SAR countries.
Analyzing the root causes of disasters will increase the understanding of disaster risk and trigger action to enhance resiliency.
Disasters result from the combination of three key elements: i) natural hazards, including earthquakes, cyclones, excess rainfall, tsunamis, etc.; ii) exposure (of people and property to these hazards); and iii) vulnerability (of the human and physical capital exposed) due to physical, social, economic, governance, and environmental factors that increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of a natural hazard.
The hazard element is the relatively fixed variable of the equation. Seismic activity, rainfall trends, and cyclone events remain relatively constant, although there is a threat that the latter two may rise in the future as a result of climate change. According to a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2012, increases in global temperatures may have an impact on storm surge, the variability of rainfall, and the duration of heat waves.