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If the world seems to be plagued by constant disasters, from pandemic to drought, we have only ourselves to blame.

Over the past two decades, we have experienced up to 500 disasters a year due to human activity. By 2030, this figure could increase to 560 per year, or 107 per week.

Given the disproportionate impact of these disasters on the most vulnerable, the tragedy is that the world is actively reversing social and economic gains, especially in developing countries, by underestimating the threat. With this perception of risk shattered, humanity itself is in a spiral of self-destruction – a key finding of the UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022 (Gar 2022).

Not only do the most exposed developing countries have a negligible share of international financing to prevent disasters or mitigate their impact, but they are also the least insured, leaving the poorest to pay the highest cost. Global priorities are not aligned with those most at risk.

Climate change and disaster impacts are expected to displace 216 million people within their own countries by 2050 and push 132 million people into poverty by 2030.

To avoid this and consolidate the progress the world has made in reducing poverty, governments, development actors and the financial sector must reconfigure the way disaster risk is perceived and managed. All sectors need to correctly measure real costs. For example, the Asia-Pacific region loses an average of 1.6% of its GDP to disasters each year, while Africa loses an average of 0.6%.

Yet “disaster risk financing” is too often isolated from other forms of risk management, leaving planners blind to the true cost of the climate crisis, which is causing this same dramatic increase in the number of disasters.

In reconfiguring the way we manage these true costs, development projects, financial investments and governments should carry out regular social and environmental impact assessments to take into account the risks and indirect impacts so often overlooked in these analyses. .

More investment could then be better directed towards disaster risk reduction, which accounted for less than 5% of disaster-related aid funding between 2010 and 2019, and a tiny fraction of the global development pot.

Reducing the risk and impact of disasters around the world also means tackling the behavioral biases that too often place potential disasters far and wide in the future. Global, regional and national institutions urgently need more systems that take into account how human minds make decisions about risk, given the various biases that fuel this thinking. In particular, insurance and financial products should be reconfigured to incentivize risk reduction decisions.

After the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in Chile, his government helped encourage safe construction by providing funds to poor families to cover the cost of a “half-good house” that met building codes, while by allowing the customization of houses. Other tools, such as “opt-out” catastrophe insurance, could help overcome barriers to human decision-making.

The increasing scale and frequency of disasters has made it clear that risk management systems need to work with, and not just for, those affected, in order to achieve the greatest buy-in.

In Nepal, flood early warning systems are accompanied by flood risk communications co-designed with the most vulnerable communities themselves, leading to a marked reduction in flood deaths.

When the risk of disaster is largely our own making, the upside is that it is in our power to stop it. The world has two opportunities to come together to act on the recommendations of Gar 2022. The first is the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, May 23-28, in Bali, Indonesia. The second is the mid-term review of the implementation of the United Nations Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which will end in 2023.

The political, financial and development sectors must start by taking risks into account and investing in inclusive risk reduction, especially in the most affected countries. Only then can we protect the most vulnerable while safeguarding the social and economic gains made around the world.

Mami Mizutori is the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction. and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)

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