by Samantha Page May 17, 2016
CREDIT: AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena
Sri Lankans wade through a road submerged in flood waters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, May 17, 2016. The Disaster Management Center said that 114 homes have been destroyed and more than 137,000 people have been evacuated to safe locations as heavy rains continue.
So much for renewable energy ruining the economy.
By 2050 there will be $158 trillion in assets at risk from flooding alone — not to mention 1.3 billion people at risk — driven largely by climate change and urbanization.
This is according to a new World Bank report, which finds that damages from disasters have been on the rise for decades and will keep getting worse.
“When people assess risk in the majority of cases today, what they are looking at is a snapshot in time,” said Alanna Simpson, head of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery’s Innovation Lab and an author of the report. “They need to know how the risk might change in the future.”
The report was released at the 2016 Understanding Risk Forum, happening now in Venice, Italy, as part of a broader call to mitigate risk in development.
“Unless we change our approach to future planning for cities and coastal areas that takes into account potential disasters, we run the real risk of locking in decisions that will lead to drastic increases in future losses,” John Roome, the World Bank Group’s senior director for climate change, said in a statement. “With climate change and rising numbers of people in urban areas rapidly driving up future risks, there’s a real danger the world is woefully unprepared for what lies ahead.”
In the United States, up to 31 million people already live in areas that would be inundated in a future that does not curb currently expected sea level rise.
The report comes as floods and landslides have killed at least eight people and displaced thousands in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The report does not shy away from acknowledging the role that climate change plays in the safety of global communities.
“Changes in hazard are driven by climate change, which raises sea levels, changes the intensity of the strongest storms and the frequency with which they occur, increases extreme temperatures, and alters patterns of precipitation,” it points out.
On a positive note, the World Bank has seen a trend of countries and partners choosing to focus on preparedness. Simpson's group recently launched ThinkHazard.org, an open-source tool for risk mitigation. Planners and builders can put their location into the website and see what types of disaster they need to consider.
"Most countries now see the value in preparedness and risk reduction as opposed to response," Simpson said. "Some of them are expensive decisions and hard decisions, but some are quite easy."
In the 30 years between 1976–1985 and 2005–2014, damage from disasters has increased tenfold, now costing more than $140 billion annually (averaged over the 10-year span). Meanwhile, the number of people affected has gone from 60 million a year to more than 170 million.
According to another report released at the risk conference, in the past two decades, extreme weather events have affected more than four billion people -- killing more than 600,000 and causing $1.9 trillion in economic losses.
But changes in population and responsible development are critical, as well. For instance, risks presented by earthquakes in Kathmandu are expected to double by 2045 due to informal building expansion.
"The risk that we see in 50 years is being built now," Simpson said. "We can wait 50 years and leave a world that is quite different for our children and grandchildren, or we can act now."