The unprecedented scale and complexity of the relief and reconstruction efforts following the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman Island earthquake and Indian Ocean tsunami have motivated scientists, policy-makers, and development aid organizations to rethink the relationship between natural disaster mitigation and economic development. Two recent reports by the World Bank and the United Nations quantify the global exposure of populations and economic activity to natural hazards. By casting mortality and economic loss in geographic terms, both studies have provided baseline arguments for linking disaster losses to other factors inhibiting economic growth, and for linking hazard mitigation to strategies for sustainable development.
However, the global analysis undertaken in these projects is clearly limited by issues of scale as well as by the availability and quality of data. For some hazards, there exist only 15- to 25-year global records with relatively crude spatial information. Data on historical disaster losses, and particularly on economic losses, are also limited. Nevertheless it is possible to assess in general terms the exposure and potential magnitude of losses to people and their assets in these areas. Such information, although not ideal, can still be very useful for informing a range of disaster prevention and preparedness measures, including prioritization of resources, targeting of more localized and detailed risk assessments, implementation of risk-based disaster management and emergency response strategies, and development of long-term plans for poverty reduction and economic development.
The challenge within international development institutions and organizations is to use the top-level momentum generated by these global studies to develop country- or region-appropriate programs in natural hazard risk reduction based on scientific evidence, technical capacity, and political will. Thus the global methodologies must be “downscaled,” not only to achieve better spatial and temporal resolution, but also to customize particular approaches to risk-conscious economic development. A new effort by the UNDP and the ProVention Consortium, the Global Risk Identification Program, is now being designed which will provide the evidence base and standards-driven framework for national approaches to hazard mitigation in the context of sustainable development programs.