Nations should prepare for more costly and intense natural disasters -- study
Lacey Johnson, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, April 2, 2012
Last year was the most expensive period in natural disaster history, and costs are likely to remain high going into the future, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution and London School of Economics.
"Globally, it appears that the costs of disasters are increasing," said Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement, during a public release of the study in Washington last week. Part of the reason for the rising costs is population growth, urbanization and development in disaster-prone areas such as coastlines, explained Ferris.
Despite the International Disaster Database recording 20 percent fewer disasters than usual in 2011 -- more than 300 worldwide -- prices skyrocketed due to multiple events in wealthier countries like the United States, Australia and Japan.
Buildings and infrastructure in these nations are more advanced, which makes it costlier to rebuild in the wake of extreme events like floods, earthquakes or tsunamis -- or, in Japan's case, all three. The total economic cost of last year's disasters was $380 billion, with more than half attributed to the March earthquake off the coast of Japan.
Bracing for a new and moving 'normal'
The United States declared 99 disasters in 2011, breaking the previous year's record of 81 disasters and nearly tripling the national average. Almost 800 tornadoes tore through the middle of the country last April and May, totaling more than $26 billion in losses, according to the study.
A prolonged drought in the Southwest and damage from Hurricane Irene cost another $17 billion. By the end of the year, the United States had recorded more billion-dollar disasters than it did during all of the
1980s combined, totaling about $55 billion in losses.
"Our 2011 statistics were off the charts in terms of what we responded to and what we did," said Anne Marie Borrego, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross. "We had disaster operations that continued for months and month on end. ... It was almost constant."
With climate scientists predicting more extreme weather as the planet warms, the study's authors recommend improving disaster plans and defenses in preparation for "a new and shifting 'normal.'"
Within the next decade, "we're going to see more severe high-impact events that we're not very well prepared for -- whether it's in terms of increased intensity of cyclones, or hurricanes or longer droughts -- as a result of climate change," said Ferris.
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net. 202-628-6500
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