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GLOBAL: Disaster risk increasing, exacerbated by climate change – report: vulnerability of rural livelihoods

Posted by African Press International on May 17, 2009

Photo: Evans Mensah/IRIN
The risk of disasters is increasing due to the expansion of slums, climate change and deteriorating ecosystems (file photo)

MANAMA, – The risk of disasters occurring worldwide is increasing due to the expansion of slums, the increasing vulnerability of rural livelihoods to weather changes and deteriorating ecosystems, a new UN report says.

Exacerbating this deadly trio is the established and omnipresent threat of climate change, impelled by greenhouse gas emissions generated by affluent societies and individuals, with the resulting burdens falling on developing countries and their poorest citizens, said the first UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, which was launched in Bahrain on 17 May.

This report is a collaborative effort undertaken by UN agencies and partners, member states, the World Bank, regional inter-governmental and technical institutions, civil society networks, academic institutions and other UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) system partners.

The most important finding of the report is that even without climate change, disaster risk is still increasing worldwide If climate change added to these disaster risk patterns, it will be a quite catastrophic picture, Andrew Maskrey, one of the reports authors, told IRIN.

Risk Drivers

The report outlined the three main risk drivers of disasters. It said that inhabitants of informal settlements were increasingly at risk from weather-related hazards.

Urbanisation per se tends to increase the intensity of run-off during storms leading to heavy flooding, often due to an underinvestment in building and maintaining drains. In fact, many floods are caused as much by deficient or non-existent drainage, as by the intensity of rainfall itself, the report said.

There are approximately one billion people living in informal squatter settlements and many are at risk from disasters. These numbers are growing by about 25 million a year worldwide, Maskrey said.

Going beyond cities, people living in rural areas who depend on agriculture and other natural resources are vulnerable to even slight variations in weather, let alone major changes in climate and more resilient disease vectors, the report said. Maskrey added that such challenges were pushing many rural folk into poverty and deprivation.

He also said that mans continued mistreatment of the worlds ecosystems would inevitably cause more disasters. Wherever we are clearing mangroves on the coasts, draining wetlands or deforesting hillsides, we are really creating conditions for disaster risk.

What can be done?

The report proposes a 20-point action plan to reduce risk, focusing on: stepping up efforts to respond to climate change; strengthening the economic resilience of small and vulnerable economies; supporting community initiatives; enhancing national and local governance; encouraging the adoption of high-level development policy frameworks; and, above all, investing in sustainable disaster risk reduction measures.

In his opening remarks before the launch of the report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the report urges a major shift in development thinking by emphasising resilience and pre-emptive measures.

If the risk is actually caused by these [three] drivers; if somehow we can address these things, we are going to reduce disaster risk, stop poor people from getting poorer, [and] deal with the magnifying effects of climate change, Maskrey said.

The report gives policy recommendations to the UN and governments on how to tackle these three issues. The report tells us that even poor countries can do this. It is not just a question of money. The technical measures exist and there are experiences that show that it can be done, so it is really a question of political will, Maskrey said.


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