Floods, drought, storms – are we prepared?
Dialogue forum on 3 March 2015
Frequency and intensity of natural disasters are increasing. The protection of people has become all the more important. In what ways must disaster prevention be improved to reduce risks? Do we need a different kind of crisis management? Possible answers to this question were discussed at the third Dialogue Forum 2015 by Dr. Volkmar Schön, Vice-President of the German Red Cross (DRK), Christoph Unger, President of the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) and Prof. Peter Höppe of Munich Re.
Munich Re's NatCatSERVICE, the most comprehensive database covering all the natural disasters of the past decades, shows how the risk situation has changed worldwide. "Since 1980, the number of natural disasters has increased from about 300 per year to almost 1000," explained Peter Höppe who heads the Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Centre at Munich Re. Storms and floods, each accounting for approximately 40 per cent, cause the most damage. "The main risk, therefore, comes from the atmosphere." And while geophysical events such as earthquakes remain relatively constant, the growing trend in weather-related disasters is unmistakable. "This is an indication that changes in the atmosphere like the increasing CO2 emissions have changed the hazard situation."
The fact that the number of victims has fallen in recent years may be a sign that prevention works. The example of Hamburg demonstrates how much can be achieved with the right measures and the requisite resources: no major damage has occurred again in the city since the devastating storm surge in 1962, even though higher water levels were measured during nine floods since then.
Working with local partners
In Germany, where natural disasters occur relatively rarely, the population is often unprepared. This last became apparent during the Elbe and Danube floods of 2013. Indirect damages are a cause of particular concern. "The BBK believes that an extensive and prolonged power outage in our technological society would have more grievous consequences than the damage from a natural disaster itself," pointed out Christopher Unger, President of the authority. Even though Germany has an efficient civil protection, for which many countries envy us. This applies especially to the voluntary system with its approximately 1.7 million helpers, such as fire fighters. However, the piecemeal system with its exact division of powers between the federal, state and local levels quickly reaches its limits when forced to act for longer periods of time. Unger therefore called for better cooperation between the different levels.
Preparing for all eventualities
But how can we help the poorest countries to protect themselves better in the event of a disaster? The joint UN Hyogo Framework for Action, HFA, has created important stimuli. The resolution was passed in 2005, the follow-up conference will be held in the third week of March 2015, in Sendai, Japan. It will bring together those responsible for civil protection worldwide to discuss measures for risk reduction. The problem is that the agreements are not mandatory. The countries must not meet any specific requirements. "The idealogical goals do not cause disputes. But when it comes to the question of who is to provide funds to what extent, the consensus quickly dissolves," remarked Schön. The DRC therefore uses part of the donation money for disaster risk management as well as for long-term prevention projects.
Insurance as an effective tool
This shows that even though disaster prevention has made great progress, there is still plenty to do. If the trend of recent decades continues, we must reckon with major events more frequently in the future.
The next dialogue forum, entitled “Poor rich world – fair opportunities for all?”, will take place on 14 April 2015.
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