BOGOTA, April 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Calculating
the costs of natural disasters is a valuable way for governments
to recognize and limit the potential for damage, especially as
extreme weather linked to climate change occurs more often, the
United Nations' disaster prevention chief says.
Recent deadly landslides caused by floods in Peru and
Colombia show the urgent need for governments to prepare better
and invest more, said Robert Glasser, head of the U.N. Office
for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).
"It's important to quantify the costs. As long as the costs
of these disasters are invisible, it is very easy to ignore
them, and it's very hard to make the case to spend money on
prevention," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an
interview this week.
"It's about tying climate risk together with disaster risk
more broadly and quantifying the costs historically and
projecting future costs," he said.
The heavy human toll and economic damage of flooding were
laid bare in Colombia this month when two landslides killed more
than 330 people and left thousands of others homeless.
Flooding in Peru last month killed more than 100 people,
while Hurricane Matthew in Haiti last year caused more than 600
deaths and $2.7 billion in economic losses.
"With climate change, we are seeing a marked increase in
extreme weather," Glasser said.
Global economic losses from disasters have reached an
average of $250 billion to $300 billion annually, according to a
2015 report by UNISDR.
A yearly global investment of $6 billion would pay off in
benefits of $360 billion in less damage and fewer economic
losses in 15 years, the report said.
Yet spending on preparedness and resilience remains low. The
U.N. has called on governments to spend at least 1 percent of
development aid by 2020 on disaster preparation, but they
currently spend just half that amount.
Experts plan to address ways of lessening the impact of
disasters and boosting funding next month in Mexico at a major
meeting to review progress on the Sendai framework for disaster
risk reduction that was adopted in Japan in 2015.
PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT
Basic measures to reduce the impact of flooding include
mapping flood-plain areas, modeling flood water flows and having
early warning systems in place, including alerts on cell phones,
to evacuate people in time, Glasser said.
Another key measure is preventing the building of
settlements on precarious slopes and along river banks.
"There's a huge return on investment with money spent on
disaster risk reduction," he said.
Reducing the impact of disasters is linked to efforts to
protect environment, he added.
By protecting mangroves that are cut down to make way for
shrimp farms, islands can reduce the impact of storm surges. And
stopping deforestation and soil erosion that reduce the ability
of soil to retain water limits landslide damage, he said.
"There is a disconnect between environmental degradation and
its impact on humans," Glasser said.
In Colombia, about 40 percent of the country's land - 45
million hectares - shows high levels of soil erosion, according
to recent academic research.
Nearly 12 million Colombians are at risk from disaster,
according to Colombia's environment minister, Luis Gilberto
Murillo. Some 500 of Colombia's municipalities are at medium or
high alert for flood and landslide risks, he said earlier this
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by
Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation,
the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)