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Can we manage a natural disaster?

Photo courtesy of NASA

With hurricane season underway in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is time for a discussion about managing risks.   Our region is exposed to a variety of hazards, including floods, earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions, droughts and hurricanes. In the last 35 years, the region has experienced more than 1,300 disasters that have claimed some 380,000 lives. That death toll is higher than the entire population of the Bahamas.

At the same time, the LAC region has lost about US $200,000 million [$200 billion] in assets and economic activities. This figure is greater than the combined gross domestic product of the Dominican Republic, Panama and Ecuador.  It is important to note that the number of disasters, the casualties, and the economic losses are steadily increasing.

The most important objective of disaster risk management is to reduce a country’s vulnerability, “better safe than sorry.” It’s the same with our bodies. It’s better to have good daily dental hygiene to prevent cavities than to end up at the dentist when your teeth are decayed.

Emergency care after a disaster is important because it saves lives, but recovery efforts are like repairing decayed teeth. So the IDB’s goal is to try and prevent loss of human life and economic losses by enhancing a country’s performance in dealing with these natural phenomena.

With that in mind, in 2007, the IDB approved its policy on disaster risk management to mark its commitment to member countries to reduce their vulnerability.  There are several possible measures for reducing vulnerability to natural phenomena in a structural or non-structural way. You can reinforce homes  schools and hospitals so that they are resistant to earthquakes; you can make construction levees along rivers to protect against flooding;  improve land management by not allowing development in areas at risk of landslides or improve governance for better institutional performance in the face of these disasters. The IDB supports and promotes these actions in countries through loans and technical cooperation.

Another crucial activity is to measure the current vulnerability of each country or municipality. Let me give you another example. When starting a diet, it is first necessary to measure the actual weight, right? Knowing our actual weight encourages us to start the diet and set the weight goal we want to reach.

It’s the same with disaster risk management. It is very important to quantify the level of vulnerability and use this to set goals for each country.



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