Risk reduction and economic development

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific

INCHEON, 5 November 2012 - Government officials from Armenia, Cambodia, Gambia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia and Republic of Korea arrive in Incheon today for a five-day "Leadership Forum on Mainstreaming Adaptation and Disaster Reduction into Development." Over 30 officials from a variety of backgrounds will examine entry points for introducing disaster risk reduction into economic development.

Most come from beyond the usual circle of civil defense and disaster risk management officials and include officials from rural development, finance and economic affairs, planning and investment, environment, water resource and meteorology, and public works and transport.

Scheduled from 5 to 9 November, this week's forum is the third offered by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) in partnership with UNDP, the UN's development arm, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre.

Opening the forum, Angelika Planitz, Disaster and Governance Adviser at UNDP's Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, noted that climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction are separate disciplines backed by different institutional frameworks, and although adaptation attracts more funding than risk reduction, the first should not supplant the second.

"The risk reduction community has a lot of experience working on the ground -- developing tools and approaches and gathering lessons learned. Meanwhile, climate adaptation was born out of the world of science, which does not have the same community emphasis but is strong on long-term, science-based projections.

"Where the two overlap is in climate risk management, which is the art of determining what risks we are willing to accept and what are the solutions. For example, when considering what to do with a hospital located along a coast that is vulnerable to storm surges, is it better to move the hospital to higher ground or reinforce it so it can stay where it is?"

UNDP figures show both developed and developing countries have roughly the same level of exposure to hazards -- about 11% of assets in developing countries compared to an estimated 15% in developed countries. But death and damage are much higher in poorer countries compared to wealthier ones -- 53% to 1.8%, said Ms. Planitz.

"Historical development decisions have led to differences in levels of risk. The natural hazard is a given and can be managed quite well with political will in place. But urbanization increases exposure and creates new patterns of risk, made worse by unplanned urban development or weak urban management," she said.

She cited an example in Peru, where, in the 1980s, a new road built into the Andes that led to a sharp increase in incidences of landslides over the next three decades.

"The problem is not going to go away," she said. "The urban population is going to increase disaster risk, especially in areas highly exposed to natural hazards. The opportunity is there to move from a 'flawed' development cycle to resilient development."

Convincing peers that disaster risk should be central to development planning "is not just about having economic arguments, it's also about understanding the constraints and limitations of colleagues working in different ministries," said Glenn Dolcemascolo, acting head of Global Education and Training Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction at Incheon (GETI), the branch of UNISDR which is running the five-day workshop.

The forum continues tomorrow with segments on spatial planning and protecting critical facilities and infrastructure.

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