Haiti: January 12th and Beyond
Session Lead: (i) Multi Hazard Assessments: Sergio Mora (ii) The Hazard: Mary Lou Zoback (iii) The Virtual Hazard Assessment: Ron Eguchi
Location: Port au Prince
NATURAL HAZARDS ASSESSMENT: FIRST STEP TOWARDS RISK ASSESSMENT
To see presentations from the Haiti Session at the Understanding Risk conference, please click HERE.
“Disaster Risk Management” (DRM) has been differentiated from “Financial Risk Management” (FRM). As we have been able to witness nowadays, economists and financial “experts”, when colluded with politicians are able to create disasters of enormous proportions, sometimes beyond nature’s power. Let’s then grant their creativity with a supremacy in destructive power. Risk Management (RM) as we know it, refers to the convolute relationship between hazards and vulnerability. As we can also observe, natural, socio-natural and anthropogenic hazards, when mixed with social, environmental, economic and governance vulnerabilities, have certainly not yet reached their peak in destructive power. There is far more to be seen in the future. This circumstance poses a certain number of questions whose answers are far from being complete.
Recent significant events in Latin America, the Caribbean and perhaps in other regions of the world have shown that considerable damage could have been avoided, or at least reduced from the social, environmental and economic standpoints if only a view on risk, more than to disasters would had been applied. According to several sources around 2/3 of the total damage could have been spared by using space (land, territory) more wisely, taking better care of the environment and natural resources, and by offering more options to the chronic impoverishment of our populations. These three closely interlinked factors have two common keys, most of the time not well understood nor materialized: policy and strategy.
Disasters are socially built; they are the product of a misconception of development processes and a mismanagement of risk. Their evident social, economic and environmental consequences lead us to ask: Has DRM been effective? Where are we going with DRM? Is it true that “our” risk management should always have to be benchmarked to “disaster reduction”? Why should we continue to call it DRM instead of RM? A ready-made solution has been to propose international agreements and scopes (e.g. Kyoto, Hyogo, IPCC). But even if this trend has been effective in raising awareness, it should be asked whether success has been achieved, if there is really a solid, robust sustainable drive, or if it is only conjectural and ephemeral.
The most “à la mode” issue is of course climate change (CC): Why and how has it taken more attention than climate variability (CV)?, the latter being, at least for the time being, far more damaging and the cause of a higher jeopardy to the development and well-being of most nations in the world. As proposed by the Working Group I of the Fourth Assessment Report (FAR-IPCC): “…the scientific consensus voiced that warming of the climate system is unequivocal…” Further “…most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to observed increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations…” Are these really so “unequivocal” truths? Or are there some misconceptions involved? Does CC really deserve that “unequivocal” priority?
What is then to be done about other hazards, natural, socio-natural (induced) and anthropogenic, not related to climate change: seismicity, volcanism, external geodynamics, hydro-meteorological, climate variability, technological? Haven’t they caused and won’t they continue to cause, at least for the time being, far more damage than CC? (i.e. Haiti, Chile, Mexicali...) Should we pay less attention to them just because some international organisations, lobbyist groups and influential politicians decreed it a supreme priority? Again, a renewed effort in settling down a clear and sound RM policy and strategy is required. The first step is to clarify that RM is not a part of Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), but fully the other way around.
Engineering and scientific communities, even by being able to read Nature’s processes, and by having reached a considerable knowledge on hazards, vulnerability and risk, have not yet brought forward a politically effective risk communication drive. We simply do not have enough persuasive power. Risk mapping, space-time modelling and scenarios are not yet fully considered, perhaps because there is something wrong or weak in the way we address the topic and we stress our arguments. By way of an example: Early warning. Isn’t this a pleonasm? Is warning useful if not made “early”? Unfortunately, early warning systems, most of them only mere surveillance devices, have also become a doubtful DRM panacea, but with a promising market development future. They require further consideration and development.
It is therefore evident that RM requires new energy, vision and stamina to place it as an integral cross-cutting policy and to clear away its pervasive myths. Realities and challenges are already pressing and will not give us any time-losing waiver. There is not a single order of priorities because they have to be defined according to the mutating realities and circumstances of each nation and community. However, it seems promising to incorporate RM into national and sub-national development policies as a transversal multi-sectoral axis in land use and in public and private investment. Mitigation should be inspired on the definition of “accepted” as compared to “acceptable” risk thresholds, by metrics establishing sound Cost/Benefit ratios and future loss assessments. But the most important paradigmatic change would be to associate RM to development planning, separated from “disaster management”.