Science key to reducing impact of natural hazards in developing countries

A report has shown that death and destruction are not the inevitable consequences of natural hazards.

The report, ‘Reducing Risks of Future Disasters: Priorities for Decision Makers’ sets out how the threat of future disasters resulting from natural hazards can be stabilised if decision makers make better use of technological developments and existing risk assessment methods. This will save lives, livelihoods and resources in developing countries.

The report also urges that disaster risk reduction is routinely built in to developments as diverse as urban infrastructure, ecosystem protection and mobile telephone regulation. These measures would help reduce the cost of disasters, which has outstripped the total international aid investment over the past 20 years and has led to the loss of 1.3 million lives and $2 trillion of damage.

Science already explains why disasters happen, where many of the risks lie and sometimes when. Disaster risk reduction going forward needs to be firmly rooted in high-quality science-based models so that the best decisions on what works can be made.

Sir John Beddington

Professor Peter Guthrie, Thalia Konaris and former PhD student Faye Karababa, all from the Department of Engineering, have been involved in the report. The work was undertaken through Consultancy Services at Cambridge Enterprise.

“Death and destruction are not the inevitable consequences of natural hazards,” said Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir John Beddington, who led the research. “We need to grasp this. Urbanisation over the next three decades, particularly in Africa and Asia, will continue. While this could lead to greater exposure and vulnerability, it also presents the greatest opportunity to protect large concentrations of people.

“Science already explains why disasters happen, where many of the risks lie and sometimes when. Disaster risk reduction going forward needs to be firmly rooted in high-quality science-based models so that the best decisions on what works can be made.

“Further, change on a more fundamental level is required so that policy makers beyond the traditional boundaries recognise they have a part to play.”

The Foresight Project’s aim has been to provide advice to decision makers on the difficult choices and priorities for investing in disaster risk reduction (DRR), so that the diverse impacts of future disasters can be effectively reduced, both around the time of the events and in the longer term.

The work looks out to 2040 and takes a fresh look at how science and evidence could help in understanding evolving future disaster risks, how those risks may best be anticipated, and the practical actions that could best be taken in risk reduction.

It is important that we grasp that disaster and death are not the inevitable consequence of greater exposure to hazards. It is possible to stabilise disaster impacts and save lives and livelihoods. Science has a huge role to play. However we require a change in culture and a new approach. Everyone with a stake in developing countries needs to play their part in reducing risk in a way that goes far beyond the traditional boundaries of development and disaster response.

The report can be accessed at: www.bis.gov.uk/foresight/our-work/policy-futures/disasters/reports-documents

Photo credit: Damage caused by typhoon Sendong on Mindanao, by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget via Flickr

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