Cy­clone sea­son shows dire need for prepa­ra­tion

Bangkok Post - - OPINION - LORETTA HIEBER GI­RARDET Loretta Hieber Gi­rardet, Chief of the UNISDR Re­gional Of­fice for Asia and the Pa­cific.

When re­ports of trop­i­cal storm Pabuk first emerged, there were ini­tial con­cerns that it could be­come a re­peat of trop­i­cal storm Har­riet, which killed roughly 900 peo­ple in 1962. There was good rea­son to be wor­ried. Since the dev­as­tat­ing In­dian Ocean tsunami of 2004, Thai­land has wit­nessed over 85 dis­as­ters of vary­ing mag­ni­tudes, re­sult­ing in the deaths of 2,750 peo­ple and af­fect­ing over 63 mil­lion peo­ple. Floods have been the most fre­quent dis­as­ter, ac­count­ing for over two-thirds of the dis­as­ter-in­duced mor­tal­ity and half of the af­fected pop­u­la­tion. For­tu­nately, that was not the case this time. Pabuk, which struck south­ern Thai­land early this month, passed with min­i­mal loss of life thanks to the early ac­tions of Thai au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing evac­u­at­ing at-risk pop­u­la­tions. Thai­land, like other coun­tries in the re­gion, has been con­sis­tently and sig­nif­i­cantly strength­en­ing its ca­pac­ity to re­act early to im­pend­ing threats of haz­ards. This in­vest­ment in early warn­ing sys­tems plays a crit­i­cal role when dis­as­ters strike and ac­counts for a ma­jor de­crease through­out the re­gion in mor­tal­ity and mor­bid­ity. Trop­i­cal storm Pabuk, how­ever, caused con­sid­er­able dam­age. The most af­fected ar­eas in south­ern Thai­land strug­gled with flood­ing, up­rooted trees, and downed elec­tric poles. More­over, since the storm struck dur­ing the peak tourism sea­son, it threat­ened the liveli­hoods of thou­sands who de­pend on in­come from tourism and dis­rupted the va­ca­tions of thou­sands of tourists. The en­su­ing re­sult was tremen­dous eco­nomic losses. Through­out the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, due to cli­mate change, ex­treme weather events are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable in their fre­quency and in­ten­sity. In­deed, Pabuk was the first trop­i­cal cy­clone to hit Thai­land in the months be­tween Jan­uary and March. While one anom­aly is not enough to make a trend, there is in­creased con­cern in the re­gion that such un­pre­dictable weather pat­terns will im­pact a coun­try’s abil­ity to pre­pare for, and re­spond ef­fec­tively to weather-re­lated haz­ards. This con­cern is sup­ported by newly re­leased dis­as­ter loss fig­ures from the global rein­surer Mu­nich Re, which states that “From a global per­spec­tive, the 2018 cy­clone sea­son will be seen as sta­tis­ti­cally un­usual” and notes that 2018 had a “greater fre­quency of un­usual loss events”. This could be a har­bin­ger of fu­ture cy­clone sea­sons, un­der­scor­ing the need for on­go­ing in­vest­ment in early warn­ing and early ac­tion. The Asia-Pa­cific re­gion suf­fered sev­eral no­table and un­usual dis­as­ters in 2018. In­done­sia suf­fered its dead­li­est year due to dis­as­ters since 2007, ac­cord­ing to BNPB, the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Mit­i­ga­tion Agency, with at least 4,231 peo­ple dead or de­clared miss­ing. Ja­pan was hit by two earthquakes and a num­ber of ty­phoons, in­clud­ing Typhoon Jebi. In In­dia, the state of Ker­ala ex­pe­ri­enced the worst floods since 1924. The tor­ren­tial rains trig­gered sev­eral land­slides, which along with the floods, af­fected 5.4 mil­lion peo­ple, dis­placed 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple, and took 433 lives, ac­cord­ing to the Asian De­vel­op­ment Bank. What all these dis­as­ters have in com­mon is that they demon­strate that coun­tries stand a bet­ter chance of min­imis­ing their im­pact if they have put in place ef­fec­tive dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion mea­sures. In­creas­ingly, in­vest­ing in dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion is a pre-con­di­tion for achiev­ing sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment in a world with a chang­ing cli­mate. This in­cludes mak­ing de­vel­op­ment de­ci­sions that take into ac­count and pre­vent risk, set­ting up early warn­ing sys­tems that can de­tect a va­ri­ety of haz­ards, ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic on dis­as­ter risks, and in­vest­ing in build­ing re­silient in­fra­struc­ture that can with­stand shocks. Build­ing re­silient in­fra­struc­ture does not ap­ply to pub­lic roads, bridges and dams, but also to schools, hos­pi­tals, and crit­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties. These ba­sic ser­vice fa­cil­i­ties play an im­por­tant role in re­cov­ery and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ef­forts after a dis­as­ter. That is why the Sendai Frame­work for Dis­as­ter Risk Re­duc­tion, a global agree­ment adopted in 2015, des­ig­nates the strength­en­ing of their re­silience as a dis­tinct tar­get to be achieved by coun­tries. No­tably, trop­i­cal storm Pabuk dam­aged sev­eral hos­pi­tals and schools, thereby re­duc­ing es­sen­tial ser­vices for the com­mu­nity. Re­cov­ery ef­forts must en­sure that these fa­cil­i­ties are re­paired and re­built in a man­ner which al­lows them to with­stand the im­pact of fu­ture storms. To max­imise the use of lim­ited re­sources, it is crit­i­cal that in­vest­ments to­wards re­silience be tar­geted in a cal­cu­lated man­ner. Com­mu­ni­ties need to un­der­stand the risks they face and pri­ori­tise ac­tions to ad­dress these risks. This in­cludes un­der­stand­ing which groups are most vul­ner­a­ble and most likely to be neg­a­tively im­pacted by a haz­ard such as a cy­clone or flood. The knowl­edge gained from such as­sess­ments must be used to guide de­vel­op­ment de­ci­sions thereby en­sur­ing that ma­jor de­vel­op­ment de­ci­sions and ur­ban plan­ning are risk-in­formed and do no cre­ate new risk. This will help pro­tect de­vel­op­ment gains from be­ing washed away by an avoid­able dis­as­ter. A key method of in­te­grat­ing risk knowl­edge into gov­ern­ment pro­grammes is the de­vel­op­ment of a sound na­tional dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion strat­egy. Cur­rently, about half of the coun­tries in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion have de­vel­oped such strate­gies. The Thai gov­ern­ment is con­duct­ing a na­tional workshop, with the sup­port of UNISDR to re­vise their Na­tional Dis­as­ter Risk Man­age­ment Plan so that it fo­cuses more on un­der­stand­ing and man­ag­ing risk, rather than sim­ply re­spond­ing to dis­as­ters. Hav­ing a na­tional dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion strat­egy is crit­i­cal to in­form­ing how a coun­try safe­guards its cities and in­oc­u­lates in­vest­ments against fu­ture losses. An in­clu­sive strat­egy also en­sures that all rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers are in­volved, es­pe­cially those who are most neg­a­tively im­pacted by dis­as­ters, such as the poor, women and girls, and per­sons liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties. Ul­ti­mately in­vest­ment in risk re­duc­tion aims to en­sure that all mem­bers of so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially the most vul­ner­a­ble, are pro­tected from the most neg­a­tive ef­fects of dis­as­ters. The man­ner in which Thai au­thor­i­ties re­sponded to the im­pend­ing im­pact of trop­i­cal storm Pabuk pro­vides an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion in ac­tion and may serve as an ex­am­ple to other coun­tries fac­ing un­pre­dictable ex­treme weather events that could re­sult in a dis­as­trous out­come for thou­sands of peo­ple.

BANGKOK POST PHOTO

Sol­diers and res­cue work­ers re­move trees that fell onto a build­ing at the Thai Medicine Of­fice in Nakhon Si Tham­marat in the af­ter­math of Pabuk on Jan 5.

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