As we become increasingly connected across the planet, so do the risks we share. In 2021/2022, the world yet again witnessed catastrophic disasters happening around the globe. The UNU-EHS Interconnected Disaster Risks report explains how understanding the underlying systems that connect disasters can significantly help to prevent and reduce disaster impacts and suggests concrete solution packages.
The report analyses ten disasters which took place in the past year that could have been either avoided altogether or have their impacts significantly reduced if the right solutions had been in place to prevent or better manage them. The selected disasters for 2021/2022 are: the British Columbia heatwave, the Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Ida, the Lagos floods, the Mediterranean wildfires, the southern Madagascar food insecurity, the Taiwan drought, the vanishing vaquita, and wandering elephants.
Through an in-depth analysis of each disaster, the report finds shared root causes which connect the disasters with each other and also identifies 8 solutions which can help to prevent or better manage the risks. They include:
“The interconnectivity that links all these disasters lies below the surface and becomes visible when identifying their root causes, as well as their solutions,” says Caitlyn Eberle, Lead Author of the report. “We can use these interconnections to our advantage, because just as disasters are interconnected, so are the solutions.”
For example, over 600 heat-related deaths were registered when air temperatures in Canada broke records for multiple days in a row, as a powerful heatwave spread over the Pacific Northwest. Research indicates that the root causes of the heatwave were related to greenhouse gas emissions and insufficient risk governance – meaning a lack of perception, awareness and preparation in risk management and response. Additionally, drivers such as insufficient early warning system and drought allowed the hazard to become a disaster.
Eventually, this resulted in loss of life, infrastructure damage, health impacts, biodiversity and livelihood loss. These impacts could have been reduced or, in some cases, even prevented if innovative solutions had been implemented, such as heat risk-aware urban planning, like urban greening, or more effective warning systems linked to social media and mobile phones. Designating an authority to be responsible for heat risk management would improve both prevention and response to heat-stress related risks. In addition, a system to implement neighbourhood safety nets could have protected the most vulnerable, as those less at risk of heat stress (people under the age of 50) could have supported those with higher risk.
Another example of this interconnectivity is the common driver of deforestation. This leads to soil erosion, where a lack of trees and roots means that there is no protection from wind and rain and the soil is easily washed or blown away. This creates ideal conditions for multiple disasters, such as the devastating landslides during the Haiti earthquake, the formation of sandstorms in southern Madagascar and the sedimentation of water reservoirs contributing to the Taiwan drought, leading to lives lost or people’s homes and income opportunities being destroyed. By applying the solution “Let nature work,” we can harness nature’s processes to reduce hazards; for example, by restoring forests to stabilize the soil and prevent land degradation.
As climate change continues to accelerate and its impacts are increasingly felt, the challenges for disaster risk reduction in the future will only grow and be intensified by the impacts of nature and biodiversity loss. Solutions are already being implemented around the world to address risks, but interconnectivity is not yet placed at the heart of solution design and implementation.
“The responsibility to make changes rests with all parts of society: the private sector, governments, regional and local decision makers, but also with us as individuals. All of our actions have consequences for all of us. In an interconnected world, we are all part of the solution,” concluded Dr. Zita Sebesvari, Deputy Director of UNU-EHS and Lead Author of the Interconnected Disaster Risks report.
Find out more about the Interconnected Disaster Risks report here.