9-15 January 2015 #740

Disaster and Development

Investing time and resources in preparing for shocks will save lives and protect communities from other losses
Helen Clark

NEW YORK – When Typhoon Hagupit made landfall in the Philippines on 6 December, memories of Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,300 people, were fresh in people’s minds. Some 227,000 families – more than a million people – were evacuated ahead of Hagupit’s arrival, according to the United Nations. The typhoon, one of the strongest of the season, killed some 30 people. All deaths from disasters are a tragedy, but the fact that this number was not much higher attests to the efforts that the Philippines has made to prepare for natural disasters.

Since the beginning of the century, more than a million people have died in storms like Hagupit and other major disasters, such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake, with economic damage totaling nearly $2 trillion. These losses are tragic, but they are also avoidable. They serve as a reminder that disaster preparedness is not an optional luxury; it is a constant, intensive process that is necessary to save lives, protect infrastructure, and safeguard development.

The argument for investing in disaster preparedness is simple. If countries expect to experience natural hazards, then investing time and resources in preparing for shocks will save lives and protect communities from other losses.

Unfortunately, governments often put different priorities ahead of disaster preparation. Donors have also historically funded emergency relief much more readily than pre-disaster preparedness. The measures that are implemented tend to be stand-alone and piecemeal, rather than part of a larger, systematic risk-reduction plan.

That needs to change. Countries like the Philippines continue to demonstrate the benefits of investing in preparedness, especially when done as part of a larger risk-mitigation effort. The Philippine government’s quick, effective response saved many lives. But it is important to note that its efforts were not simply an overnight reaction to the oncoming storm. They were part of a national, comprehensive effort that was long in the making.

The Philippines includes preparedness as a core component in its overall strategy for reducing disaster risk. Over the last decade, the country’s authorities have raised awareness, established and strengthened disaster-management institutions, and worked on recovering from past disasters. National and local disaster plans have been improved, standard operating procedures have been developed, and early warning systems have been put in place. The end result has been nothing short of a transformation of how the Philippines reacts to disasters.

In March 2015 a new global framework for disaster reduction will be agreed in Sendai, Japan. It is crucial that delegates push for transformational change that enables preparedness and saves lives.


Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand, is Administrator of the UN Development Programme.

Read also:

Unnatural disaster, Editorial

Disastrous management, Editorial

Man made disasters, Editorial