• What we call “natural” disasters are not natural at all | Jo Scheuer

    12 Oct 2012

    Over 4,000 families in Cambodia wait to return to homes inundated by flash floods in September 2012. Photo: ActionAid Cambodia/Savann Oeurm
    Over 4,000 families in Cambodia wait to return to homes inundated by flash floods in September 2012. Photo: ActionAid Cambodia/Savann Oeurm

    As you read this, over 4,000 families in Cambodia, where I used to live, wait to return to homes inundated by flash floods that have killed at least 14 people in the last few days.

    Most of these displaced people are subsistence farmers. Many will have lost everything they own, including their crops or food stores, and these floods may drag them further into a cycle of poverty.

    But these 4,000 Cambodian families are not unique. Every day around the world, disasters caused by natural hazards force thousands from their homes, strip people of their livelihoods and stop them from accessing schools, hospitals and markets.

    In 2011, the most expensive year on record for natural hazards, 106 million people were affected by floods, 60 million by drought, and almost 30,000 people were killed.

    Disasters put hard won development achievements at risk, reverse progress towards the elimination of poverty, and result in terrible suffering.

    But it doesn’t have to be like this. What we call natural disasters are not natural at all. A natural hazard only becomes a disaster when measures to mitigate its impact, such as earthquake resistant buildings, are lacking. We don’t have to resign ourselves to the devastation that disasters cause, nor see them as exceptional events that interrupt normal development.

    What is needed is a deliberate approach to looking at and planning for crises. UNDP has proven time and time again in countries including Armenia, Bangladesh, Indonesia,  Mozambique and many others, that helping governments to prepare for disasters saves lives. Disaster risk can often be anticipated and contingencies developed. Recent large-scale natural disasters, such as the floods in Pakistan, earthquake in Haiti and drought in the Horn of Africa remind us that we need to put resilience to crises at the heart of development.

    As we approach the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, it is worth remembering that every dollar spent on preparing for disasters saves around seven dollars in economic losses. Investing in disaster preparedness before a natural hazard occurs reduces the need for humanitarian action.

    Talk to us: How can countries build resilience to disasters into development planning?


About the author
thumbnail

Jo Scheuer is the Coordinator of the Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery Team in UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

 

full biography
Follow us