Recurring Low-Intensity Disasters Test Disaster Preparedness Systems

Recurring Low-Intensity Disasters Test Disaster Preparedness Systems

The recent floods in northern India are a stark reminder of the extent of destruction wrought by natural disasters. Year after year we hear of the same hazards seemingly striking in the same places, be it floods in northern India or Pakistan, droughts in the Horn of Africa or typhoons in the Philippines. Yet, far from the media glare, localized and low-intensity recurrent disasters wear down the resilience of communities around the world through displacement and the loss of livelihoods.

Unlike in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake or the 2010 Haiti earthquake, no foreign military assistance has been requested to respond to natural disasters in the past three years—nor forcefully offered, as happened after Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in 2008. Nor did any disaster claim tens of thousands of lives in 2012.

But even in the absence of “mega-disasters,” the human and financial consequences are massive: More than 30 million people were displaced worldwide by natural disasters in 2012; the total cost of damages was estimated at $140 billion. Meanwhile, the World Bank warns that the population of large cities exposed to tropical storms and earthquakes will more than double, from 680 million in 2000 to 1.5 billion in 2050.

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