Last week in Helsinki, the global community continues to consult on how it will follow up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015. As we look to the future, one thing is clear: We can no longer afford to ignore disaster risk or the relationship between disasters and development. Disasters set back development achievements.
This is obvious when a hurricane washes away a school. However, development decisions can also affect disasters – for example, when houses are built to a standard that doesn’t resist earthquakes. Sometimes the relationship is more nuanced; even an earthquake-resistant highway isn’t much good if it encourages poor people to move into a flood plain.
Disasters must be part of the new development framework because it is the poor and marginalized who are most vulnerable to catastrophe. The 2010 floods in Pakistan and earthquake in Haiti, and the 2011 flooding in Thailand are recent clear examples of how, long after the debris is cleared, disasters still affect every single one of the MDGs. The poor are deprived of crops, homes, schools and health centers, and the struggle to escape poverty is reversed, sometimes by decades.
The total global cost of disasters in 2011 was more than US $380 billion, translating into millions of lost jobs and livelihoods. And the cost of disasters is not limited to the countries in which they occur. In the increasingly interconnected world, a flood in Bangkok can have economic impacts, even in faraway developed countries. Climate change, population growth and poorly planned urbanization are increasing future uncertainty. But while decades of hard work and billions of dollars in development investment can be, quite literally, washed away overnight, disasters can also be avoided or mitigated if proper steps are taken. This not only saves lives, but protects scarce development resources.
Some studies indicate that every dollar spent on preventing disasters saves an estimated seven in humanitarian response and clean-up. Resilience to disasters must be central to the Post-2015 agenda. Only countries with systems and institutions that save lives and protect development investment for future generations will reap the benefits of sustainable development.
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