When something with the potential to become a disaster actually occurs, are we destined to suffer the consequences, including human lives lost, livelihoods destroyed, damage to infrastructure and harm to nature that may take a long time to recover from (if at all)?
We believe that disasters can and should be avoided. No disaster should be a shock or “black swan” to us because we generally know the hazards and threats we face - we have surely had enough experience of them by now. While not all hazards are fully predictable, we can predict and redress vulnerabilities including exposures when we collectively choose to focus on them and act in an appropriate way that values life, and we can measure quantifiable outcomes that show economic benefits as well as human and environmental ones. As our case studies show, when the right actions are taken we can avoid disasters. Good things happen when committed people and organisations collaborate to prevent a disaster from happening, sometimes in surprising and unexpected ways. In addition, we can document the outcomes of avoiding disasters, such as economic, human, and environmental benefits, to encourage others to do the same.
Many of the actions required to avoid disasters are challenging and hard, and they require coordinated action from many groups of people, each with their views and drivers. Some of the root causes of disasters require a hard rethink of the fundamental concepts of economics and society.
Avoiding a disaster requires a mindset, an approach, and a drive for coordinated action - which need not “cost the Earth” - from diverse groups of people. This includes people in local communities who willingly give their time to support those near to them, third sector organisations, policy makers and advisors working at a national and international level, scientists and researchers, people who own and run businesses, insurers, philanthropic organisations and charities. We need transparency across all actions we undertake, with good governance and shared accountability being the glue that bonds our actions together.
The world faces many challenges…
Disasters continue to occur, and questions keep being asked after they happen, such as "Could they have been avoided?" and "Should we have committed more funding upfront to avoid the problems we now face?" Editorials and articles have been published about this matter for many years (see this example from The Atlantic from 2015, for example).
The Midterm Review of the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, which was completed in mid-2023 (access Resolution A/RES/77/289 adopted on 18 May, 2023 here), emphasised:
We can change the situation…
To put more effort with scarce resources into avoiding disasters, we need a shared mindset to change many aspects of how we live. Different points of view must be sought and gathered, with no space for “elephants in the room” that people don't want to talk about. Good governance and proper accountability for action needs to be informed by good science-based data and information, with quantifiable actions being undertaken by everyone, with the best use of scarce resources including funding.
As part of the mindset change, as we describe in the "Defining a disaster" section, can situations and events be called "disasters", not "natural disasters"? The causes of disasters are usually multiple and are often complex, with human activities combining with other factors. Whilst climate change is often one of the factors, there are invariably several or many other factors at play, such as our use and care of land, the economic drivers that we choose to follow, our lifestyle choices, and in some cases people having no choice but to settle in a vulnerable location.
Our focus on disaster avoidance covers disaster and emergency response mechanisms, as well as the action to negate the threats and vulnerabilities at source. Practised disaster and emergency detection, effective early alerts and response to recover from a major situation or event is vital.
With the right effort upfront, we can minimise the impact of a situation, and minimise the time and cost of recovery. One of the tools we describe in our toolkit, the bowtie, may help people to think through "the two halves" of proactive action to stop a disaster from happening (the left-hand side of the bowtie), and reactive action to reduce the impact when a situation occurs. The bowtie is commonly used in many private sector industries, and it can be a useful visual aide to review threats, vulnerabilities and actions. Therefore, our focus on disaster avoidance also covers the crisis and emergency response component. Practised disaster and emergency detection, effective warnings and alerts and response to and recovery from a major situation, are vital.
Threats and vulnerabilities remain. Many people live in harm's way, and situations and events that can become disasters will continue to happen. However, as our examples and case studies show, when we act together to avoid disasters, we can collectively make the world a better place.
Disasters can cause death and destruction. Should we accept them, or are there ways we can stop situations and events from becoming disasters?
In this clip, Ilan Kelman discusses this subject, including why disasters are not natural, in a short (just over 6 minutes) discussion facilitated by the BBC with other experts...
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