Playing with Fire: Disaster Risks of the Future

“We are playing with fire” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in connection with the findings of a recent report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR15).  “There is a very real possibility that disaster risk, fuelled by climate change, will reach a tipping point beyond which the effort and resources necessary to reduce it will exceed the capacity of future generations,” continued the Secretary-General.


Photo: Chris Preen. Photo taken on 2 March 2015 of the Cape Town fire (South Africa) which spread through the city’s Table Mountain National Park, affecting over 3000 ha of vegetation and several properties.

The 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (prepared by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)) states that economic losses from disasters are now reaching an average of US$250 billion to US$300 billion annually.

Another key finding is that the majority of governments are too focused on managing disasters rather than tackling the underlying drivers of disaster risk such as poverty, climate change, the decline of protective eco-systems, poor urban planning and land use, and lack of building codes which contribute significantly to the creation of risk.

“For many countries, that small additional investment could make a crucial difference in achieving the national and international goals of ending poverty, improving health and education, and ensuring sustainable and equitable growth,” the GAR15 states.

GAR15 estimates that an investment of US$6 billion annually in disaster risk management would result in avoided losses of US$360 billion over the next 15 years. The report states that this US$6 billion is just 0.1% of total forecast expenditure of US$6 trillion annually on new infrastructure. GAR15 also finds that governments need to be setting aside US$314 billion every year to meet annual average losses from just earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical cyclones and river flooding.

The UN Secretary-General warned that “growing global inequality, increasing exposure to natural hazards, rapid urbanization and the overconsumption of energy and natural resources threaten to drive risk to dangerous and unpredictable levels with systemic global impacts.”

GAR15 is a major contribution to the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which is due to adopt a new global agreement on disaster risk reduction which will update the Hyogo Framework for Action, adopted in January 2005 just weeks after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. The Hyogo Framework for Action was the first such global agreement to explain in a comprehensive manner how to reduce disaster losses.

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