Almost three months after Typhoon Bopha cut a destructive swathe through Mindanao in the southern Philippines, nearly 200,000 people are still waiting to be housed.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has appealed for $30 million in additional funding to support its aid operation in the disaster-hit region as the government prepares to relocate tens of thousands of families to areas less prone to natural disasters.
In January, the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, saw some of its worst flooding in years amid warnings that it will intensify.
Along the Australian eastern seaboard, large parts of Queensland and New South Wales have been declared disaster areas following severe flooding for the second time in as many months.
On Feb 24, a tornado cut a path of destruction through parts of southern Sydney.
Two weeks ago, nine earthquakes with magnitudes above 4 rocked large parts of southern China, including Guangdong and Yunnan provinces, causing minor damage.
Leading global insurance company Munich Re says natural disasters cost the industry $65 billion in 2012 with Superstorm Sandy accounting for nearly two-fifths of the total.
Still, the total insured losses were down from a record $119 billion in 2011 following devastating earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand and flooding in Bangkok, which cut global supply chains.
Natural disasters in Australia cost the insurance industry more than A$6.5 billion ($6.67 billion) over the last two years, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Australia tells China Daily Asia Weekly.
“Much of this could have been avoided if the damaged properties had been built to be resilient to the risks,” the spokesman adds.
The Asia-Pacific region is the most disaster-prone area in the world. It is also the most seriously affected one.
Almost 2 million people were killed in disasters between 1970 and 2011, the UN says in its 2012 disaster report.
Losses from natural disasters in Asia in 2011 was a “staggering” $294 billion — 80 percent of the annual global disaster losses of $366.1 billion for the year. “What is more striking is that the region’s single-year losses were also 80 percent of its total disaster losses from the decade 2000-2009,” the report says.
“The Great East Japan Earthquake and devastating tsunami, the ensuing nuclear disaster which it provoked, and then the Southeast Asia floods that severely affected Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, were major contributors to the staggering losses.
“These are stark reminders of the unmitigated growth of accumulated disaster risks that affect the socioeconomic conditions of developing countries, as well as threatening the economic assets of wealthier developed economies.”
The report also says that many leaders and much of the public are still struggling to understand how the various components of risk, like hazards, vulnerability and exposure, combine to increase the region’s total risk and trigger ever-greater losses.
“It has also become disturbingly evident that rapid economic growth alone does not result in reducing vulnerabilities sufficiently, but actually creates even greater conditions of public exposure to a growing variety of disaster risks,” it warns.
“Asia is (an) extremely disaster-prone region and thus a very high increase in its trend over time from 1950 onwards,” explains Debby Sapir, director of the Brussels-based Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.
Asia’s share in the last 10 years is also extremely important. About 90 percent of the total affected population in the world are in Asia. Almost all the deaths, economic losses and natural disaster are in Asia, Sapir says.
Rapid urbanization and industrialization, which are driving large increases in the population, are making many cities in Asia centers of vulnerability, says Arianna Granziera, environmental analyst with global risk consultancy Maplecroft.
“The large numbers of urban poor, with limited access to resources, amenities and formal housing, are the most vulnerable of the population and are often forced to live on marginal land such as on river banks or flood-prone areas.
“In many cities, the urban poor constitute a large proportion of the population and are often the backbone of the informal economy, an important portion of the labor force,” Granziera says.
According to her, the potential negative effect of climate change on Asian economies is illustrated by the costs associated with the 2011 Thailand flood. Physical damage combined with business interruption amounted to an estimated loss of $45.7 billion.
“Although no one individual event can be attributed to climate change, the likelihood of very severe events occurring is increased by climate change,” she adds. “Lower yields for major crops, damage to high-value infrastructure, additional costs for managing water resources, coastlines, disease and other health risks all represent challenges to economic growth.”
A recent report from the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) says losses from natural disasters in Asia are rising faster than economic growth and will continue to increase unless regional governments find sustainable ways to mitigate risk.
Bindu Lohani, vice-president for knowledge management and sustainable development at ADB, says natural disasters are rising in Asia and eroding economic gains.
“As the global region most vulnerable to climate change, we no longer have a choice but to focus on disaster risk management,” Lohani tells China Daily Asia Weekly. “What is needed is massive investment by governments to strengthen disaster resilience.”
He says less than 5 percent of all losses in developing Asia are covered by insurance. In developed countries such as Australia, Singapore and Japan, the figure is 40 percent.
“Floods in the Philippines cost the country 2.7 percent of GDP growth in 2012 while the floods in Thailand in 2011 wiped out growth for that year.
“In Thailand’s case it also disrupted global supply chains in the technology and automotive sectors for months.”
According to the UN report, the floods tripled the global cost of computer hard drives, as the reduced production capacity in Thailand caused significant impacts in other countries through global supply chains.
Driven by trade and investment liberalization and continued cost reduction pressures from customers, businesses have been extending their activities worldwide; in the process of doing so, they are also expanding their exposure to disaster risks, the report says.
Disasters caused by natural hazards are one cause of disruptions to supply chains, even when the disaster may occur in another part of the world. The Japan earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 disrupted automobile production of neighboring countries. As the economy of Japan is highly integrated into the world economy, both direct and indirect supply disruptions caused by the disaster were experienced elsewhere.
While Japanese automobile production and electrical component production declined by 47.7 percent and 8.25 percent respectively, the repercussions were felt in other Asian countries too.
Sanny Jegillos of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) says climate change has transformed the way we approach natural disasters.
“In recent years we have seen flooding in many parts of the region on a scale unprecedented,” says Jegillos, practice coordinator for crisis prevention and recovery with UNDP’s Asia-Pacific regional center in Bangkok. “The damage and the economic cost is now challenging all our assumptions when faced with natural disasters.”
Assumptions such as risk financing, disaster preparedness, who receives warnings and who gets evacuated have now been challenged, says Jegillos. “All of us, including governments, have had to go back to the drawing board when assessing our risk assumptions. It is no longer good enough to look for historical precedents as weather-related natural disasters are now happening on a regular basis.”
While the population of the region increased from 2.2 billion to 4.2 billion people between 1970 and 2010, the average number of people exposed to annual flooding more than doubled from 29.5 to 63.8 million. The number of people residing in cyclone-prone areas has grown from 71.8 million to 120.7 million, according to UN data.
“The region has been slow to be concerned by how the growth of disaster risks has been spurred by rapid economic growth, and the means to minimize those risks while also striving for sustained economic prosperity,” the UN disaster report says.
According to ADB’s Lohani, Asian governments no longer have a choice: “They must focus on disaster risk management.”
He says most Asian countries have disaster handling capabilities, but few have adequate provisions for financing post-disaster losses and rehabilitation. Disaster losses are expanding at a faster pace in Asia due to environmental degradation, climate change, demographic pressures, and widespread failure to consider disaster risk in designing and locating many critical development investments.
The UN report says most “post-disaster needs assessments have difficulty translating risk reduction intentions into firm decisions and expedient action by individuals, businesses and various levels of government”. It says that it is now widely recognized that disaster recovery planning can reduce exposure to future hazards.
Following the 2011 earthquake, Japan’s government issued a Basic Act for Reconstruction and Basic Guidelines for Reconstruction.
Part of these guidelines at the municipal level involved land-use planning to relocate communities. Communities rebuilt housing in safer areas to protect residents from future tsunamis.
In New Zealand, following a series of devastating earthquakes in the Canterbury region, the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority developed a recovery strategy. It was designed to guide the rebuilding and recovery of the city and the greater Christchurch area to reduce the risk consequences of future earthquakes.
However, for some countries, mitigation still remains an uphill task.
“It’s a very complicated problem,” Jakarta’s city governor Joko Widodo told The Guardian newspaper in February regarding means to combat flooding.
“The Dutch built 300 dams and lakes, but there are only 50 left. The wetlands, woods and other green spaces north of the city have been taken over by housing complexes and malls. You can’t just demolish everything.”