Thursday, May 26, 2011

UN: Disaster Preparedness Is Reducing Death Tolls Globally

Global disasters, from the landslides and earthquakes that struck Australia, New Zealand and Spain to the flooding in Pakistan and the tsunami in Japan, have for the past year and a half been important headlines. Yet, according to the UN there is good news! Global disaster preparedness has increased which in turn has decreased mortality rates.

According to a UN press release, fewer people are at risk of dying from natural disasters than 20 years ago thanks to the improved disaster preparedness. Governments globally have become ore capable of responding to global disasters such as storms, flood, landslides and earthquakes despite the fact that more people live in disaster prone areas.

When Pakistan experienced extreme flooding last year, the UN ran a solid global risk model that asked how many people were predicted to be killed. The model predicted 4 times more people killed than reported by authorities. In the 2010 floods, the worst in Pakistan's history, killed more than 1,750 people. Floods like the one in Pakistan would have killed 15,000-20,000 people twenty years ago, but today that number is significantly less.

As mortality rates drop though, there remain economic losses that affect the population. The UN report recognized that governments are still sticking to failed land management policies and also pointed out drought as a possible disaster as a result of this failed management. Droughts globally have killed up to 11 million people since 1900 and have affected 2 billion people. This is more than any other single disaster.

Drought have also been known to lead to migration, conflict and political and social unrest. The report stated that, contrary to what you may think, drought is not only due to lack of rainfall. Droughts take place in Bangladesh, Laos and Cambodia. All three countries experience above average precipitation. It can be brought on by failed development and management plans and there are no current credible models to approach this kind of risk. This is mainly because drought impacts are not recorded as other hazards are. Yet, if mortality rates can decline so substantially due to disaster preparedness models there is hope that droughts can be addressed as well and models can be created. Governments can and should protect their populations from local hazards, which in turn affect the local infrastructure of the state.

-Gabrielle Gurian