BANGKOK, Thailand, Aug 25 (IPS) – Over the past two decades, the Asia-Pacific region has made remarkable strides in disaster risk management. But countries can never let their guard down. The COVID-19 pandemic, with its epicenter now in Asia, and all its tragic consequences, has exposed the weaknesses of human societies in the face of powerful natural forces. As of mid-August 2021, countries in Asia and the Pacific had reported 65 million confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than one million deaths.
This is made worse by the extreme weather events that affect the whole world. Despite the varying contexts by geographic area, the link to climate change is evident as floods swept through parts of China, India and Western Europe, while heat waves and fires swept through. rabies in parts of North America, southern Europe and Asia.
The human and economic impacts of disasters, including biological ones, and climate change are documented in our Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2021. It shows that climate change increases the risk of extreme events like heat waves, heavy rains and floods, drought, tropical cyclones and forest fires.
Heat waves and related biohazards in particular are expected to increase in East and Northeast Asia, while South and Southwest Asia will experience an intensification of flooding and related diseases. However, in recent decades, fewer people have died due to other natural hazards such as cyclones or flooding. This is partly a consequence of more robust early warning systems and responsive protection, but also because governments have started to understand the importance of addressing disaster risk in an integrated manner rather than just reacting to danger. by danger.
However, there is still a long way to go. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, most countries are still ill-prepared for multiple, overlapping crises – which often follow one another, one triggering another. Tropical cyclones, for example, can cause flooding, which leads to disease, exacerbating poverty. In five of the region’s hotspots where populations are most at risk, the human and economic devastation caused by these intersecting and interacting shocks highlights the dangers of the poor living in many of the region’s vast river basins.
Disasters threaten not only human lives, but also livelihoods. And they are likely to be even more expensive in the future as their impacts are exacerbated by climate change. Annual losses from natural and biological hazards in Asia and the Pacific are estimated at around $ 780 billion. In the worst-case scenario of climate change, the annual economic losses resulting from these cascading risks could reach $ 1.3 trillion, or the equivalent of 4.2% of regional GDP.
Rather than seeing the human and economic costs as inevitable, countries would do much better to make their populations and infrastructure more resilient. This would involve strengthening infrastructure such as bridges and roads, as well as schools and other buildings that provide shelter and support in times of crisis. Most importantly, governments should invest in more robust health infrastructure. This would require substantial resources. The annual cost of adapting to natural and other biological hazards in the worst-case scenario of climate change is estimated at $ 270 billion. Still, at just one-fifth of the estimated annualized losses – or 0.85% of Asia-Pacific’s GDP, it’s affordable.
Where can additional funds come from? Some could come from normal tax revenues. Governments can also turn to innovative new sources of finance, such as bonds for climate resilience, debt-for-resilience swaps, and debt relief initiatives.
COVID-19 has once again demonstrated how all disaster risks are interconnected – how a public health crisis can quickly trigger economic disaster and societal upheaval. This is what is meant by “systemic risk”, and it is the kind of risk that policymakers must now face if they are to protect their poorest.
This doesn’t just mean responding quickly with relief packages, but anticipating emergencies and creating robust social protection systems that will make vulnerable communities safer and more resilient. Fortunately, as the report illustrates, new technologies, which often exploit the ubiquity of cell phones, offer more opportunities to connect people and communities with financial and other forms of support. To better identify, understand and interrupt the transmission mechanisms of COVID-19, countries have turned to “frontier technologies” such as artificial intelligence and big data manipulation. They also used advanced modeling techniques for early detection, rapid diagnosis and containment.
Asia and the Pacific is a huge and diverse region. The disaster risks in the steppes of Central Asia are very different from those of the small island states of the Pacific. What all countries should have in common, however, are strong principles for managing disaster risk in a more coherent and systematic way – principles that are applied with political commitment and strong regional and sub-regional collaboration. .
M / s. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana is the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP)
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