Fragile infrastructure and weak logistics chains substantially increase the risk that an extreme natural event, such as an earthquake or a flood, will become a disaster. Inadequate transport routes, unreliable electricity grids, and dilapidated buildings can impede humanitarian aid from overseas as well as delay the provision of crucial assistance to victims.
The World Risk Report 2016 — the sixth in a series of annual reports by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) and Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft — analyses the role that infrastructure and logistics play in determining a country’s disaster risk. The report was released on 25 August at a launch event in Berlin.
“We currently focus too much on short-term relief after disasters, and pay too little attention to ensuring that resilient infrastructure is in place before hazards occur”, warns Dr Matthias Garschagen, Lead Scientist at UNU-EHS and Scientific Director for the report. “Sufficient, high-quality infrastructure … can not only prevent the often-catastrophic consequences of natural hazards, such as flooding or storms, but can also play a crucial role in the distribution of humanitarian aid supplies” if the hazard becomes a disaster.
An important component of the report is the World Risk Index. Through the combined analysis of natural hazards and societal vulnerabilities, the index assesses the risk of disaster in 171 countries.
The 2016 World Risk Index ranks the Pacific island states of Vanuatu and Tonga as 1 and 2 in terms of facing the greatest risk, followed by the Philippines. All three nations have high scores regarding both their “exposure” (to natural hazards) and “vulnerability” (the combination of “susceptibility”, “lack of coping capacities”, and “lack of adaptive capacities”).
Japan, despite a comparatively high “exposure”, ranks lower at 17 (though still in the top ten) because of its much lower “vulnerability” (due to the nation’s excellent infrastructure and coping/adaptive capacities).
In 2015, the United Nations recorded 346 disasters worldwide, affecting almost 100 million persons and causing more than 22,000 deaths and economic damage of US$66.5 billion. The World Risk Report 2016 provides a stark reminder that urgent action is needed to help prevent natural hazards from becoming disasters, and to mitigate the human consequences when they do.
For more about the World Risk Report 2016, see the press release or read the article “World Risk Report 2016: The Importance of Infrastructure”.