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New resilience study helps governments prevent disaster-related loss

Disaster-related lossNew resilience study helps governments prevent disaster-related loss

Published 10 April 2017

Hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and other disasters cannot be stopped, but countries can plan for them — something some areas of the world seem to do better than others, according to a new study. In the study, thirty-eight factors that affect a country’s resilience were derived from national and international databases, and the researchers used these databases to grade the resilience of each country and continent and develop a comprehensive index that includes indicators such as the number of disasters and their death tolls, as well as an area’s population, infrastructure, economy and educational system.

Hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and other disasters cannot be stopped, but countries can plan for them — something some areas of the world seem to do better than others, according to a new study published in the journal Risk Analysis.

Oceania, which includes Australia and surrounding Pacific islands, was deemed to be the most resilient region of the world, meaning it would likely suffer fewer losses during a disaster than other areas. The study also revealed that Asia is the least resilient. Understanding resilience — and how to improve it — can help governments better prepare for disasters and reduce risks to human life.

“Resilience is the ability to prevent loss caused by disasters,” according to Hong Huang, corresponding author and professor at the Institute of Public Safety Research at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “High resilience is like an umbrella that can protect against not only single and normal disasters, but also against miscellaneous and unconventional emergencies.”

SRAsays that in the study, “Resilience Analysis of Countries Under Disaster Based on Multi-Source Data,” thirty-eight factors that affect a country’s resilience were derived from national and international databases including the U.S. Census, the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The researchers used these databases to grade the resilience of each country and continent and develop a comprehensive index that includes indicators such as the number of disasters and their death tolls, as well as an area’s population, infrastructure, economy and educational system.

The researchers also analyzed 100 years of historical data from more than 20,000 disasters and accidents to develop a resilience score for each country. They researchers also ranked each country based on the danger it faces from disasters and the degree to which its resilience to disaster has improved over time.

Extreme heat, tsunami and drought ranked as the most severe types of disasters, causing about 5,000 deaths in countries with a population density of at least 100 people per square kilometer. According to the data, Estonia, Libya, Sudan, Russia, and Myanmar had the lowest resilience scores. The latter three countries cover large areas and therefore have difficulty implementing comprehensive resilience plans encompassing the entire region. In general, African countries have low resilience because of poor infrastructure, bad economies, and lower education levels. 

The researchers found it was easier for smaller nations to be more resilient than larger nations. Some of the most resilient nations included Barbados, Marshall Islands, Singapore, Cayman Islands, and Antigua and Barbuda.

Many countries have become more resilient to the threats posed by disasters over the last fifty years, particularly developing nations. Having a higher population density and GDP positively affected countries’ resilience scores. Other factors that play critical roles in improving a nation’s resilience include its ratio of insurance consumption to GDP and how many hospital beds it has per 1,000 people. Countries should consider these factors first when looking to increase resilience, the researchers said. 

Becoming more resilient to disaster also varies by country because the impact from a certain type of disaster and countries’ infrastructures and economies vary. “Different cities and countries have their own characteristics,” Nan Zhang, assistant professor at Tsinghua University and lead author said. “Developing an index system is a very useful way not only to uncover the vulnerable areas, but also to discover the sensitive influencing factors that can improve resilience.” 

More areas are also looking to make changes that improve their resilience, according to the researchers. For example, New York is working to become more resilient to flooding by improving flood insurance, building codes, and flood zoning. Tokyo is using operational meteorological networks and advanced instruments to build infrastructure that is better equipped to withstand extreme weather conditions. 

The researchers recommended that future studies should focus on determining the resilience of each country as it relates to each type of disaster.

— Read more in Nan Zhang and Hong Huang, “Resilience Analysis of Countries under Disasters Based on Multisource Data,” Risk Analysis (6 April 2017) (DOI: 10.1111/risa.12807)

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