Disaster-Proof Development

NEW YORK – Over the last three decades, economic losses associated with natural disasters like floods, storm surges, hurricanes, and droughts have risen in lockstep with the steady climb in global temperatures. Data from a growing number of governments suggest that, so far this century, such losses have amounted to around $2.5 trillion. And, as the latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns, the worst is yet to come.

This escalation will, of course, be driven largely by the increasingly frequent and intense weather events associated with higher global temperatures. But inadequate preparation will exacerbate the problem considerably.

Today, massive investments in critical infrastructure, industrial expansion, and urban development – vital to accommodate an expanding global population, set to reach nine billion by 2050 – are being made without adequate regard for disaster risk. In the absence of a comprehensive effort to protect these new economic assets, disaster-related costs will skyrocket in the coming decades.

In this sense, climate-change forecasts should challenge politicians and business leaders to re-calibrate their perceptions of exposure and disaster risk. Decision-makers must recognize that there is no such thing as a natural disaster; there is only the disastrous impact of natural hazards on infrastructure, including workplaces, homes, roads, schools, and hospitals.