Can Earthquakes, Wildfires Be Prevented From Becoming Life Threatening

Hazards such as earthquakes, floods, wildfires and heat waves can be prevented from becoming life-threatening disasters once the solutions are interconnected among the countries, governments and others, according to a latest UN report launched on August 31.

In the Interconnected Disaster Risks report from the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), the authors point out that the period between 2021 and 2022 saw record-breaking catastrophic disasters in all corners of the world. From record-breaking heat waves in British Columbia, to wildfires in the Mediterranean, floods in Nigeria, and droughts in Taiwan, the period saw the greatest catastrophe, said the report. 

The report finds that about 10,000 people lost their lives and an estimated 280 million dollar was incurred in damages worldwide.  The authors stressed that many of these disasters shared root causes.

HAZARDS

The report states that the world in 2021/2022 witnessed catastrophic disasters happening around the globe, from record-breaking heat to floods, extreme droughts, wildfires and earthquakes.

From Europe to Asia, America to Africa, nowhere is immune, they said.  The report mentioned that nature

also continues to be under grave threat, as species are pushed from their habitats or towards extinction, the true costs of which are much harder to estimate.

The report mentioned that the vulnerable populations are in the weakest position to buffer themselves against the impacts of a disaster as they can neither afford to purchase insurance nor have the economic

means to bounce back once a hazard strikes. The same applies to nature, where a healthy ecosystem can absorb the force of a storm or a flood better than a damaged one. The disasters seen in 2021/2022 could have been either avoided altogether or their impacts significantly reduced if the right kind of solutions had been in place to prevent or better manage them, it said.

HAZARDS; CONNECTING THE DOTS

“Disasters occurring in completely different parts of the world at first appear disconnected from each other. But when you start analyzing them in more detail it quickly becomes clear that they are caused by the same things, for example greenhouse gas emissions or unsustainable consumption,” said Dr. Zita Sebesvari, lead author and deputy director of UNU-EHS.

In the report, the authors said that it is necessary to look below the surface and identify the drivers that cause disasters. As an example, they pointed out that deforestation leads to soil erosion, where a lack of trees and roots means that there is no protection from wind and rain, and the soil is easily washed or blown away. This creates the ideal conditions for multiple disasters, such as the devastating landslides during the Haiti earthquake, the formation of sandstorms in southern Madagascar and the sedimentation of water reservoirs in Taiwan, the authors said.

Other common root causes found in the report include inequality of development and livelihood opportunities, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and legacies of colonialism.

SHARED CAUSE

The report states that a deeper analysis showed that many drivers are formed by shared root causes, such as economic or political systems. Deforestation as a driver, for example, can be traced back to the tendency to pursue economic interests without regard for environmental externalities, a root cause defined as “Undervaluing environmental costs.

SOLUTIONS INTERCONNECTED

The UN report said that good news is that just as the disasters are interconnected, so are the solutions.  One type of solution can prevent or reduce a number of different disaster risks. For example, enhancing early warning systems would have reduced fatalities during the British Columbia heat wave, the Tonga volcano’s tsunami and the flooding in Lagos. Similarly, consuming sustainably can not only reduce the strain on ecosystems we depend on for protection from hazards like the flooding seen in Lagos and New York but also preserve valuable food and water resources in times of scarcity, highlighted by the Vanishing vaquita and Taiwan drought, respectively.

HAZARDS; REAL SOLUTIONS

The UN report also said that all solutions would not be convenient for everyone. The redistribution of resources among generations, countries, and groups of people with different vulnerabilities, or requesting the inclusion of stakeholders who are rarely heard, will mean that some will need to share their resources more broadly than they currently do.

The solutions are not limited to governments, policymakers, or the private sector. They can also be carried out at the individual level, the researchers urge.

“We can let nature work when we give spaces back to it. We can promote sustainable consumption by being mindful of where our food comes from and where we buy it. We can work together to prepare our communities in the event of a disaster,” says  “The point is that we, as individuals, are part of a larger collective action, which goes a long way in creating meaningful positive change. We are all part of the solution,”  O’Connor said.

Innovations can include the use of adaptive design, such as floating architecture, that can help reduce the vulnerability of homes to increasing flooding (as seen in the Lagos floods). Preventive techniques that are both effective and beneficial to farmers, such as beehive fences, have successfully been used in Kenya to prevent elephants from entering cropland while at the same time providing honey and improving crop pollination.  As climate change is here to stay and its impacts are increasingly felt, the challenges for disaster risk reduction will only grow in the future and be intensified by the impacts of loss of nature and vanishing biodiversity. Solutions are already being implemented around the world to address risks, but interconnectivity is not yet placed at the heart of solution design and implementation.

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