The increase in recent years of intensive hazardous events in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), such as the devastating Hurricanes in 2017 (Harvey, Irma, Maria, Nate, and others), the intensive earthquake in Ecuador in April 2016, the Argentina Floods in 2013 and many other events, have caused many fatalities, injuries, disruptions of infrastructure and people’s livelihood, as well as vast economic losses. These climate-related hazardous events clearly demonstrate how the ongoing global climate change can increase the number of people at risk across LAC countries and all over the world. All international institutions, national and local governments entities, communities and private sector organizations need to account for increasing disaster risk and incorporate this aspect in all development practices.
Increasing economic losses, higher numbers of affected people, and the disruption of infrastructure in many LAC countries due to the hazardous events, are also clear indicators that vulnerability to natural hazards has grown exponentially. Thus, vulnerability reduction should be a focus for successful sustainable development practices.
Reducing disaster risk needs accounting of the various vulnerabilities of the society at risk, including: economic, social, and physical conditions, considering also geographical and geological characteristics. The last few decades have shown that engineering approaches – mitigating extreme events through structural engineering measures (e.g., constructing river dikes for flood protection) – is not always sufficient for protecting lives and assets. Communities and the private sector are beginning to initiate comprehensive and participative vulnerability reduction practices, knowing the limit of how far we can withstand all hazardous events and learning to live with these risks.
Although “vulnerability reduction” is an easy phrase to conceptualize, it is very difficult to implement in a concrete and tangible manner. In fact, expressing the magnitude of past disasters is easy, via the statistics of the number of people affected and the amount of direct economic losses through international disaster databases. However, the most important questions are related to measuring the current or future vulnerability of a country or a city before a disaster occurs. How is your country’s or city’s vulnerability to an eventual hurricane that can take place once every 100-years? How do we monitor whether vulnerability reduction practices primarily done by the national or local civil protection agency or the community itself- have improved?
The Interamerican Development Bank (IDB) takes the initiative to lead international and local policy makers, academics, as well as national and local governments to discuss the state of the art of measuring vulnerability to natural hazards in two ways: an indicative and quantitative manner.
Measuring vulnerability in an indicative manner
For over 15 years, the IDB has developed the family of indicators of disaster risk and risk management, that have been applied at the country level. These indicators are the following:
- Index of Governance and Public Policies (iGOPP) that identifies conditions of public policy and regulatory framework related to disaster risk management.
- Disaster Deficit Index (DDI) that measures country risk from a macro-economic and financial perspective when faced with eventual catastrophic events.
- Local Disaster Index (LDI) that identifies the extent of spread and damage resulting from small-scale disasters in all parts of a country.
- Prevalent Vulnerability Index (PVI) that measures three tangible social-related vulnerability aspects: hazard exposure and physical susceptibility, socioeconomic fragility, and resilience.
- Risk Management Index (RMI) that measures institutional and community performance on disaster risk management.
For more information regarding these indicators visit the RiskMonitor
Measuring vulnerability in a quantitative manner
The IDB is developing a study to estimate probabilistic economic losses and human impacts due to eventual hazard events, including hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions and forest fires, expressing the vulnerability by probable maximum losses (PML), average annual losses (AAL) and Loss Exceedance Curve (LEC). The results from this study are summarized and published as Country Disaster Risk Profiles (CDRP). These CDRP have been developed for, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Jamaica, Guatemala and Venezuela, among other countries. Some of the studies incorporate future climate change and additional hazardous scenarios. Visit our publication website to learn more about these studies.
The development of these technical instruments helps to visualize disaster risk vulnerability in a way that will enable the decision makers to assess the potential impact of disasters and to promote the formulation of appropriate policies. These instruments show that, without a doubt, there is still a long way to go to improve the quality of technical outputs that will be more useful in the planning and implementation of socioeconomic development practices.