Wildfire and floods don’t need to turn into disasters: UN risk report |

From record heat waves in British Columbia, to wildfires in the Mediterranean, floods in Nigeria, and drought in Taiwan; The period from 2021 to 2022 saw record disasters in all parts of the world.

About 10,000 people lost their lives and estimated $280 billion suffered damage worldwide.

Latest Linked disaster riskS Report of the United Nations University Institute on the Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), found that many of these disasters share the same root cause. At the same time, the study’s authors found that solutions to preventing or managing them are also closely linked.

Strong winds and high temperatures have caused wildfires to spread across Greece's Athens.

Unsplash / Anasmeister

Strong winds and high temperatures have caused wildfires to spread across Greece’s Athens.

Connect the dots together

“Disasters that occur in completely different parts of the world at first seem unrelated. But when you start to analyze them in more detail, it quickly becomes clear that they are caused by the same things, for example greenhouse gas emissions or unsustainable consumption“Dr. Zita Sebesvari, lead author and UNU-EHS deputy director.

To connect the dots, the Linked Disaster Risks team looked “below the surface” of each disaster and identified the causes that allowed them to happen in the first place.

For example, deforestation leads to soil erosion, thus making the land very vulnerable to hazards such as landslides, droughts and sandstorms.

A further study shows that the causes of disasters are formed by common root causes that are more systemic in nature, such as through the economic and political system.

Deforestation can result from placing economic benefits over environmental benefits and from unsustainable forms of consumption.

Other common root causes found in the report include inequalities in development and livelihood opportunities, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the legacy of colonialism. It is the root causes like these that can be found in disasters across the globe.

The connections are not limited to root causes and causes but also to who and what is most at risk; Vulnerable groups, in both human settlements and natural ecosystems, continue to be the hardest hit by disasters.

Storm approaches Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

© Unsplash / Nahil Naseer

Storm approaches Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

‘Let nature work’

However, solutions are also interconnected, meaning that one type of solution can be applied in several contexts to reduce the impact of disasters in different parts of the world. In addition, there are many solutions to a disaster, and they are most powerful when applied in combination.

For example, the “let nature work” solution draws on the power of nature to prevent risks and avoid disasters.

Regulated forest burning can reduce the risk of major fires in the Mediterranean; restoring urban rivers and streams can reduce the impact of flooding such as the one that occurred in New York after Hurricane Ida; and invest in advancing early warning systems that can improve the ability to predict and communicate risks ahead of time.

Of the three events analyzed in the report – British Columbia Heatwave, Tonga volcano and tsunami, and Lagos flooding, in Nigeria – early warning systems could have minimized reported deaths.

Lead author Dr Jack O’Connor said: “If we don’t want the disasters we’re experiencing to become the new normal, we need to recognize that they are interconnected, just as they are. their solutions”.

“We have the right kind of solutions to better prevent and manage hazards, but we urgently need to invest in scaling up and developing a better understanding of how they can work together.” fit together.”

Maria Antonia, from Baja California, Mexico, wakes up every day before dawn to catch milkfish, corvina and sierrita.

UNU-EHS / Rodrigo Jardon

Maria Antonia, from Baja California, Mexico, wakes up every day before dawn to catch milkfish, corvina and sierrita.

‘We are all part of the solution’

Not all solutions will be convenient for everyone. The redistribution of resources across generations, countries and groups of people with different levels of vulnerability, or which requires the participation of rarely heard stakeholders, will mean some will need to share their resources more widely than they do now.

The solutions are not limited to governments, policymakers or the private sector. They can also be done on an individual level, the researchers encourage.

“We can let nature work when we give it back space. We can promote sustainable consumption by being mindful of where our food comes from and where we buy it.

“We can work together to prepare our communities for disasters,” says O’Connor. “The point is that we, as individuals, are part of a larger collective action that helps create meaningful positive change. We are all part of the solution.”

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