The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in a report 'Natural Disasters: Saving Lives Today, Building Resilience Tomorrow', highlighted that the increasing vulnerability of the Asia-Pacific region and the fact that as well as an average of around 200 million people being directly affected by natural disasters every year, the economic impact of these disasters stretches right across the globe - as seen in the wake of the 2011 tsunami that hit Japan.
The report also focused on the increasing number of people affected by natural disasters but the decreasing number of people killed by them.
The Institution's report examined the trend of global urbanisation which is projected to result in 75 percent of the world's population living in towns and cities by 2050, 95 percent of the expansion in urban living being anticipated in developing countries.
This movement of population in areas such as coastal regions, flood plains and earthquake zones that are typically less resilient to extreme natural events, has been identified in the report as one of the factors, along with degradation in of the natural environment that is moving the world towards more natural disasters.
The report also cites the recent Uttarakhand flood fury in India as a classic example of the damaging consequence of unplanned and inappropriate development resulting in the habitation of human population in less resilient areas.
Appreciating the immediate criticality to control and effectively manage the pressing humanitarian crisis of natural disasters, the report stressed the need to prioritise the next phase of rebuilding affected communities to be more resilient.
This involves putting in place long-term infrastructure redesign and re-engineering, and incorporating knowledge from across the globe on the ways to build preparedness and resilience against future events (often termed 'building back better').
The report also lauds the effort of Surat administration, located in the Indian state of Gujarat, on their decision to relocate a number of communities from flood-prone land to purpose-built blocks and successfully reducing their physical vulnerability.
Tim Fox, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said, "When extreme natural events like earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones with disaster potential do occur, it is crucial that engineers are embedded into early response activities, not only to assess the damage and the safety of the remaining buildings and structures, but also to ensure a long-term view is taken right at the start of decision making."
Fox added, "As was seen earlier this month in India with Cyclone Phailin, given adequate levels of preparedness and resilience, many such disasters could be avoided and lives and communities can be saved."
He said, "Engineering can play a great role in developing the preparedness and in reducing the future impact of natural disasters at various stages."
"Engineers are critical to planning and developing specific, local resilience as they can assess issues like the availability of potable water and energy, sanitation and hygiene options, transport links for food supplies and the interconnectedness of systems - like water and electricity," Fox added.
The report recommended that the governments around the world increase their focus on preparing communities and building future resilience rather than just relying on immediate disaster relief; to build local capacity through planning and knowledge transfer and to embed long-term engineering view in the short-term response.
It also revealed how the involvement of the private sector can be instrumental in overcoming the challenge of transferring technical ability to the developing nations and their resilience programs.
Among the key findings of the report are that on an average about 78,000 people are killed annually in natural disasters, with a further 200 million (or about 3 percent of the human population) directly affected by it and economic losses running to about USD 100 billion.
Man-made changes have removed the natural barriers protecting against extreme natural events, thereby increasing the likelihood of disasters occurring.
In the 21st century world of highly globalised trade the impacts of natural disasters in both the short and long term can have a profound effect on stability, supply chains and global, national and local economics
The rapid growth of economic activity, human population numbers and urbanization in Asian-Pacific countries have rendered it vulnerable to the effects of extreme natural events.
Between 1980-2009, about 38 percent of disaster related global economic losses occurred in Asia and it is 25 times more susceptible to a natural disaster than Europe.
--IBNS (Posted on 30-10-2013)