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Insurers Tackle Natural Disaster Risk

The UN and insurance companies have launched a drive to tackle natural disaster risk by identifying the most effective measures to combat disasters and helping communities implement them.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) FI Principles for Sustainable Insurance (PSI) Initiative’ s Global Resilience Project is a phased approach to protecting communities from natural disasters.

The PSI Global Resilience Project, which is led by Insurance Australia Group, has just completed its first phase. This assessed the effectiveness of a range of disaster risk reduction measures across the three most devastating types of natural hazard-cyclone, earthquake and flood. The findings are outlined in a new report, Building disaster-resilient communities and economies.

In the report, disaster risk reduction measures were assessed according to how much they cost, the economic benefits they brought, and their potential to save lives and reduce the number of people adversely affected. The analysis also looked at downstream benefits-other advantages to communities beyond disaster risk reduction.

It found:

  • For cyclones, natural coastal protection ecosystems such as mangroves and sand dunes can reduce risk in a similar way to structural measures like sea walls, as well as bringing downstream benefits such as wildlife habitat and aquaculture. In terms of cost, conserving and restoring existing ecosystems is much more effective than creating new ones.
  • For earthquakes, the focus is more on appropriate building codes so communities can weather earthquakes when they strike with fewer lives lost and less damage.
  • For floods, measures which block water, such as levees, can work hand-in-hand with structures, which divert water downstream, to protect larger areas of river basin, while appropriate zoning will ensure properties are not placed in harm’s way.
  • For all hazards, the report recommended a focus on educating the community and stakeholders, conducting risk mapping, and developing robust evacuation procedures.

The report also highlighted inconsistencies in available risk reduction research as a significant barrier to identifying the most effective risk reduction measures in vulnerable communities.

The next phase of the PSI Global Resilience Project will see the development of a global disaster map to identify individual communities most in need of risk reduction efforts. The project will then seek to engage communities, governments and other stakeholders in investing in disaster resilience and in implementing the measures most effective in protecting lives and property.

The PSI project launches as the first-ever UN Environmental Assembly convenes in Kenya to discuss ways to advance the “green economy,” including alternative energies, smart grids and new transportation options.

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