Our Perspectives

Can data better focus risk reduction strategies?


flooded area in CambodiaMonsoon rains and tropical storms bring terrible flooding to Cambodia, but lighting strikes rank as the second highest cause of mortality in disaster-related deaths. Photo: OCHA/Andrew Pendleton

It’s widely known that floods are a major cause of mortality in Cambodia. Nearly 53 percent of total disaster-related deaths between 1996 and 2013 were caused by recurring floods. What’s less well-known is that during the same period, 35 percent of disaster-related deaths were due to lightning, the second-highest cause of mortality in Cambodia.

Understanding the impacts of disasters, their frequency, intensity and recurrence patterns are key to addressing them systematically. In Cambodia, such analysis has been possible with the use of data provided by CamDi (Cambodia Disaster Loss and Damage database), an online system established by the National Committee of Disaster Management in partnership with UNDP. In July 2014, CamDi, with English and Khmer interface, was launched by the Government of Cambodia and an analytical report was shared with all line ministries and provincial agencies, as well as with the donor community, international non-government organizations and other relevant groups.  

I remember my initial consultations and discussions with the government and stakeholders. At the time, we were largely focused on flood-related issues, and lightning, seen as an isolated event, went unmentioned. Exhaustive disaster data collection, however, revealed the team the severity of the impact of lightning on the lives of Cambodians. We shared the findings of the analysis with national and provincial government agencies and engaged them in discussions on the causes of this trend, as well as ways they could minimize the negative impacts of such disasters.

We cannot base our understanding of disaster risk solely on big disasters we see in the news. We need to speak to communities and be open to details, keeping in mind that we might be biased towards one type of issue at the expense of other, equally urgent challenges. Extensive and exhaustive data collection – and user-friendly analysis and presentation – can help us to see past our biases and, ultimately, better strengthen disaster resilience.

With CamDi, Cambodia now has official data about disasters that is disseminated through an online system. Work is already underway to expand this system, which will further increase our information on disaster loss. In the future, we can work to make this system more user-friendly—we can find ways to translate technical information for non-technical audiences, and can find ways to distribute such information widely through technology like mobile apps for smartphones and tablets.

With a new global framework for disaster risk reduction about to emerge in Sendai, it would be wise to emphasize the utility and necessity of quality disaster loss data.

Crisis response Disaster risk management Climate change and disaster risk reduction Disaster risk reduction Asia & the Pacific Cambodia Innovation Blog post

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