Most disaster risk assessment today is static, focusing only on understanding current risks. A paradigm shift is needed toward dynamic risk assessments, which reveal the drivers of risk and the effectiveness of policies focused on reducing risk.
Global disaster risk is changing extremely fast, due to combined dynamics of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability.
The drivers of disaster risk are in the control of policy makers, society, and individuals—but accurate assessment and continuous reevaluation of risk is required to enable effective risk reduction and prevent drastic increases in future losses.
Disaster risks are rapidly increasing around the world: many regions are experiencing greater damage and higher losses than in the past. There is variability in annual losses and deaths from disasters, but annual total damage (averaged over a 10-year period) has increased tenfold between 1976–1985 and 2005–2014, from US$14 billion to more than US$140 billion. Such losses are expected to continue growing going forward unless we take action.
Disaster risk is influenced by the occurrence of potentially dangerous naturally occurring events, such as earthquakes or tropical cyclones (hazard); the population and economic assets located in hazard-prone areas (exposure); and the susceptibility of the exposed elements to the natural hazard (vulnerability). All three of these components are dynamic, and change over time under natural and human influences. But most risk assessments do not account for these changes, so they provide a static view of risk. As a result, risk management policy decisions based on such assessments do not take into account the continuous and sometimes rapid changes in the drivers of risk and so may underestimate risk.
Decisions being taken today are influencing future disaster risk—either reducing risk or increasing it. By promoting policies that reduce risk and avoiding maladaptive actions that increase risk, we can positively influence the risk environment of the future. The drivers of future risk are within the control of decision makers today: there is a huge opportunity today to manage the risks of tomorrow.
Risk assessments that inform disaster risk management must account for the dynamic nature of hazard, exposure, and vulnerability. By quantifying future risk with and without the effect of disaster risk management policies and comparing the results, risk management specialists can demonstrate how policy actions taken now and in the near future could affect the risk environment in the medium to long term.
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