Human Behavior and Environmental Degradation Are Behind Growing Disasters

A UN envoy for tsunami recovery says human behavior and environmental changes are primarily responsible for growing impact of natural disasters, and argues that substantial resources and new policies are needed for effective disaster prevention.

Eric Schwartz, the UN Secretary General’s Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, cites statistics that show disasters affecting a growing number of people and causing increasing economic damage.  He argues that human behavior is chiefly responsible, pointing to overall population growth, rapid urbanization, migration to coastal areas, poverty, and environmental degradation.

The countries affected by the December 2004 tsunami are working to put in place an Indian Ocean tsunami early warning system and improving national disaster preparedness through stronger building codes, public education, safe access areas for emergencies, and private insurance.

But mitigation efforts require substantial resources and a major reorientation of development priorities.  Presently, a paltry 4 percent of $10 billion in annual humanitarian assistance goes to prevention measures, even though every dollar spent on risk reduction saves $5-10 in economic losses from disasters.  Schwartz sees the Third International Early Warning Conference, held in Bonn, Germany at the end of March, as a unique opportunity to make progress on disaster reduction.

Related Links:

Eric Schwartz, “A Needless Toll of Natural Disasters,” Op-Ed, Boston Globe, 23 March 2006.