Risk reduction must be integrated in public investment

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Countries continue to struggle to address risk drivers in processes such as urban planning, construction, and environmental management.

The United Nations 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Revealing Risk, Redefining Development indicates that many countries have made significant progress in reducing mortality risk, at least with respect to weather-related hazards. However, many nations are not taking into account the ongoing losses caused by disasters, which makes it difficult to integrate risk reduction into public investment planning. Disaster after disaster, damage to housing, infrastructure, and public assets such as schools and health facilities has soared in many low- and middle-income countries.

This is the second Global Assessment Report (GAR) published by the UNISDR. It explores trends in disaster risk for each region and for countries with different levels of socioeconomic development in order to help understand current and future risks. This edition is based on the reports from more than 130 governments engaged in self-assessment of their progress in implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA).

According to Andrew Maskrey, who coordinated the production of this report, the results reflect the efforts made by countries over the past 10 to 25 years. Increased losses can be related to the growth in economic assets in all regions of the world.

The report points to two distinct trends relating to disasters: declining mortality rates and increasing economic risk. A comparison of the rate of increased economic risk and growth in per capita GDP shows that economic risk increases at a faster rate than GDP, which means that the risk of losing wealth as a result of disaster is increasing at a faster rate.

A central theme of the report is public investment in risk reduction. Are governments taking into account risk factors when making public investments? They may be, according to Maskrey, “but they have not yet found sufficient political will to invest.”

One common denominator among the country reports reviewed for the report is that most could not quantify how much they are investing in risk reduction, which means either that they are not investing at all or do not know whether or not they are investing. In countries where investments are being made, outlays are very uneven or public investment is absent or insufficient.

Economic losses are not yet reflected in disaster indices. Maskrey points out: “There must be a change in mentality in governments: they must stop looking at investment in risk reduction as an expense. If they calculate the number of schools, health centers, and water and sanitation systems that are damaged every year because of disasters, they would realize that the costs for managing risk are low.”

Beyond that, Maskrey says, it is necessary to continue to support preparedness, early warning, and response. Therefore he believes that work must begin with governments on their public investment plans.

In Latin America there are countries that have experience in this regard. For example, Peru and Costa Rica include the issue of risk reduction in their budgets for public investment. Maskrey points out that these countries have decided not to build schools, health centers, roads, etc., that will have to be repaired or rebuilt after a few years because of a disaster. There are other examples in Mexico and Chile, where structural tools that are traditionally used to combat poverty are also being used to protect these populations in disaster situations.

Maskrey maintains that the problem is not growth: growth is good because it creates wealth and reduces poverty. “I think we have to sell the idea to governments that risk reduction is a good business investment. The problem is that we have not been able to sell the issue in those terms.”

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