Let me be blunt: there is no such thing as a “natural” disaster. Disasters are complex, multifaceted, frequent, and overwhelming. We have a hard time fully grasping the nuance and complexity of each disaster – particularly one that strikes halfway across the world – so we turn to calling it a “natural” event. The term natural disaster is, in essence, a heuristic that we fall back upon in order to interpret the event.
A disaster is widely perceived as an event that is beyond human control; the capricious hand of fate moves against unsuspecting communities creating massive destruction and prompting victims to call for divine support as well as earthly assistance.
1) The Philippines has become increasingly vulnerable to typhoons for lots of reasons — and climate change is only one angle here.
Thanks to basic geography, the Philippines has long been one of the most storm-ravaged places on Earth, with about 8 to 9 typhoons making landfall each year, on average. The warm waters surrounding the island nation help fuel strong tropical cyclones, and there are few natural barriers to slow the storms down or break them up. … 2) Typhoons aren’t the only natural disaster the Philippines has to worry about. … But the precise risks are often difficult to pinpoint — and that makes preparation even harder. Many climate models still have trouble making predictions at a very fine-grained, regional level. And typhoons are especially difficult to forecast: While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change thinks it’s “likely” that tropical cyclones will get stronger as the oceans warm, it’s less clear how the frequency of storms will change in the years ahead (they may even become less frequent).
3) Adaptation can help, but it’s not always enough. Many countries have managed to reduce their exposure to natural disasters over the years by implementing detailed adaptation plans. If climate change does increase the risk of natural disasters in the years ahead, then those plans will become increasingly important. …
Bangladesh, for instance, has steadily reduced the number of deaths from tropical cyclones since the 1970s through early-warning systems, shelters and evacuation plans, and building coastal embankments.
4) Where will the money come from for adaptation? There are two key questions that always come up at international climate talks like the one now going on in Warsaw. First, how will the world cut its carbon emissions to slow global warming? And second, where will the money come from to help poorer states prepare for its effects? The second question is likely to get more attention in the wake of Haiyan. …
"We have received no climate finance to adapt or to prepare ourselves for typhoons and other extreme weather we are now experiencing," Saño told the Guardian. “It cannot be a way of life that we end up running always from storms.”
NPR asks: If coastal communities are so economically vibrant, why can’t they pay to rebuild after storms? Should the Federal Government continue to pay and subsidize rebuilding America’s coastal cities?
The report criticizes the NFIP’s “perverse” incentives, including artificially low insurance rates and other subsidies. The program should instead, according to the UCS report, set rates that reflect true risk and phase out unfair subsidies. This will help coastal communities make smarter choices about building and rebuilding in flood-prone areas, and ensure that U.S. taxpayers aren’t saddled with rapidly increasing flooding and disaster relief costs.
A particularly wasteful aspect of the NFIP program is that it continues to pay out claims on properties in high risk areas that have been repeatedly flooded, with virtually no penalties. UCS has created a map based on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) data that shows egregious instances of repetitive-loss claims along the Gulf coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and along many parts of the Atlantic coast, including Florida, North Carolina, New York and Massachusetts. According to the NFIP, though repetitive-loss properties account for just 1.3 percent of overall policies, they have been responsible for 25 percent of all NFIP payments (almost $9 billion) since 1978, and are expected to account for 15 to 20 percent of future NFIP losses.
“The problem is two-fold,” said Rachel Cleetus, a senior climate economist at UCS and author of the report “Overwhelming Risk: Rethinking Flood Insurance in a World of Rising Seas.” “The coasts are becoming more populated and built-up, so we have more people and more valuable property in harm’s way. At the same time, climate change is contributing to sea level rise, generating more intense hurricanes, and causing bigger, more damaging storm surge.
The result is that coastal residents and business owners are at increased risk and taxpayers nationwide are looking at shelling out more money to help with post-storm rebuilding efforts.”
A new institute, financed by the insurance industry, not only believes in global warming but also supports a carbon tax to combat it.
[The insurance industry expects disasters] will get worse. “Numerous studies assume a rise in summer drought periods in North America in the future and an increasing probability of severe cyclones relatively far north along the U.S. East Coast in the long term,” said Peter Höppe, who heads Geo Risks Research at the reinsurance giant Munich Re.
“The rise in sea level caused by climate change will further increase the risk of storm surge.” Most insurers, including the reinsurance companies that bear much of the ultimate risk in the industry, have little time for the arguments heard in some right-wing circles that climate change isn’t happening, and are quite comfortable with the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the main culprit of global warming.
“Insurance is heavily dependent on scientific thought,” Frank Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America, told me last week. “It is not as amenable to politicized scientific thought.”
The international community spent $13.5 billion on reducing the risk of disasters in the past two decades, just 40 cents for every $100 of aid, and a tiny amount compared with the $862 billion in disaster losses suffered by developing countries, according to a new study.
The report from the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) said funding for disaster risk reduction (DRR) has been concentrated in a small number of middle-income countries, such as China and Indonesia, with many high-risk nations - especially poor, drought-prone states in sub-Saharan Africa - receiving negligible financing.
The top ten countries received nearly $8 billion between them, and the remaining 144 just $5.6 billion combined. The inequity of disaster risk reduction spending is clear when broken down on a per capita basis. Ecuador, the second-highest recipient per capita, got 19 times more than Afghanistan, 100 times more than Costa Rica and 600 times more than Democratic Republic of Congo , for example.
The American Meteorological Society released its annual “State of the Climate” report, a hefty, 258-page document chronicling changes in global warming data. Compiled by members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with 384 scientists from 52 countries, the report is used to set and influence domestic climate policy and distributes statistics that form the baseline for discussions of climate change.
This year’s report holds a wide roster of data—ranging from interesting to doomsday—and most major newspapers and wire serves at least ran something based on the report press release. But considering the importance, and acute detail, of the information contained in the release, the mainstream press provided a surprisingly limited amount of analysis.
Reuters filed a short summary, “Signs of new climate ‘normal’ apparent in hot 2012 report,” culling information entirely from NOAA’s press release, with one skeptical insertion framing the slowing surface temperature rise: “The decrease in temperatures has been noted by climate-change skeptics who question the impact of human activities.”
The World Meteorological Organization branded 2001-2010 as “a decade of climate extremes”. Over that decade, the yearly average number of severe storms with ‘names’ was 25 percent more than the average of 1981-2010. This surely indicates a severe decade ahead of us.
The United Nations’ Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR) 2013 adds further to our worry. It estimates that at least 50 percent of the direct financial losses are from smaller disasters taking place at the country level and is not counted in the global calculations.
If our post-2015 efforts need to “put sustainable development at the core,” despite worrying pasts and uncertain futures, we must address climate change and disaster resilience. To do so, among other things, we need creative funding systems with practical actions at the country and global levels.
The least-developed, climate vulnerable countries are often seen waiting for money to come to help them. Bangladesh is a different picture, however. Between July 2009 and June 2013, its government has put about $315 million of its own money to the ‘Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund’. Until April 2013, more than 200 projects have been supported from this Trust Fund to implement the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan (BCCSAP, 2009) to prepare the country against the impacts of climate change.
Interesting conversation at the link. How do city planners, architects, engineers, researchers, etc., think about people living with disabilities?
This one hits close to home. A few years ago, my grandfather was confined to a wheel chair and moved in to live with my mother for care. Her house was about 80 years old and was quite small. Doorways and halls were narrow. One day, as an experiment, I decided to sit in his wheel chair and get a drink of water. I was curious about how difficult it must have been. I was also curious about if I could fit through the doorways.
The entire experiment was incredibly frustrating. Getting through the narrow doorways wasn’t the biggest issue, it was the sharp turns just after some of them. To get to the kitchen, I had to do an immediate 90 turn. It was craziness, sort of like the ultimate parallel parking situation, wheeling back and forth, one hand pushing a wheel, the other pulling. Inch by inch. But that wasn’t the worst part, it was trying to get a glass from the cupboard. I couldn’t reach up past the counter, which at 36 inches high, impeded my reach. There simply was no way for me to reach a glass. I could reach the bottom corner of the cupboard to open it. But I couldn’t reach in to get a glass, nor could I reach the nobs on the back of the sink without getting out of the chair.
Right then I realized that western style homes were only for the able bodied, and certainly not for the disabled. Further, there was no affordable way, to my mind, to retrofit or ‘adapt’, homes with ease to accommodate people with failing faculties. Old people are physically weakened, and across a counter and up to a cupboard is, seriously, a dangerous task. It’s no wonder elderly are always falling - it’s a design issue.
Right after that experience I donated a wheelchair to the Environmental Design and Urban Planning departments at the University of Massachusetts, where I earned two of my degrees.
I asked one of the professors to be in charge of the chair, and challenge her students (with supervision) to perform one task: get a cup of coffee and bring it back to class. The results, I’m sure, are perpetually hilarious. But these students will, it is my hope, think about design in the built environment with everyone in mind.
So, there is precedent to include the disabled into planning. If you’re a disaster manager of any sort, try to think about what it would be like confined to a wheelchair - how would you find elderly people in time to evacuate them? How can the leave the house? Who could they call? Who would be around to respond? Do the side walks and streets provide a reliable exit?