22 August 2019: The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has published its biennial flagship report on disasters, which warns that economic losses could quadruple as a result of “the new climate reality,” referring to the unprecedented “relentless sequence of natural disasters” in the region.

The Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 titled, ‘Disaster Riskscape Across Asia-Pacific: Pathways for Resilience, Inclusion and Empowerment,’ shows that disasters in the region are growing in intensity, frequency and complexity, leading to increased difficulty in determining which areas should prepare for what kind of disaster. The report illustrates the linkages between disasters and inequality and poverty, with each “feeding on the other and leading to a vicious downward cycle.” It assesses the scale of losses across the disaster “riskscape,” and estimates the amounts that countries would need to invest to outpace the growth of disaster risk.

In 2018, according to the report, almost half of natural disaster events worldwide occurred in the Asia-Pacific region, including eight out of the ten deadliest. Annual economic losses for the region are approximately USD 675 billion, or around 2.4% of the region’s GDP, of which USD 405 billion are drought-related agricultural losses. Vulnerable and marginalized communities are the hardest hit by disasters in the region. The report projects that unmitigated disaster risk could double the number of those living in poverty by 2030 to 123 million.

The report includes, for the first time, the costs of slow-onset disasters, particularly drought, which leads to a quadrupling of annual economic losses compared to previous estimates.

Unmitigated disaster risk could double the number of those living in poverty by 2030 to 123 million.

Speaking during the report’s launch in Bangkok, Thailand, ESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Alisjahbana said countries will not be able to achieve many of SDG targets if people are not protected from disasters, which threaten to reverse development gains and slow poverty reduction. She argued that investments in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience building will be “far smaller than the damage and losses” from unmitigated disasters, and will deliver social co-benefits related to improved education, health, social and infrastructure services, and higher agricultural production and incomes.

The report identifies four regional hotspots where fragile environments are converging with socioeconomic vulnerabilities:

  • transboundary river basins in South and South-East Asia, where poverty, hunger and undernourishment are coupled with intensifying floods and prolonged droughts;
  • the Pacific Ring of Fire in South-East Asia and East and North-East Asia;
  • sand and dust storm corridors in East and North-East Asia, South and South-West Asia and Central Asia, were environmental fragility, combined with land degradation, desertification and climate change, could lead to devastating storms; and
  • climate-related hazards in the Pacific small island developing States (SIDS).

The report calls for “transformational change” and for addressing social policies and disaster resilience in an integrated manner, whereby government agencies and ministries collaborate and align their plans to ensure that DRR and building resilience can be achieved across sectors.

Many disaster hotspots, according to the report, transcend national boundaries. Thus, the report urges countries to work more closely together to unlock the potential of regional cooperation, and proposes implementing a set of regional policy actions through the Asia-Pacific Disaster Resilience Network.

The report also: explores the ways in which emerging technologies such as big data and digital identities can help ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable groups are included in policy interventions; demonstrates the ways in which countries can maximize their investment impacts by implementing a portfolio of sectoral investments and policies that jointly address poverty, inequality and disaster risk; and provides examples of pro‑poor DRR measures and risk-informed social policies that are breaking the links between poverty, inequality and disasters.

The report was released in advance of ESCAP’s Committee on DRR, which is meeting from 28-30 August 2019, and ahead of ESCAP Disaster Resilience Week. The report also contributes to the High-level Political Forum for Sustainable Development (HLPF) and its regional preparatory process, the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development. [Publication: Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019: Disaster Riskscape Across Asia-Pacific: Pathways for Resilience, Inclusion and Empowerment] [Publication Landing Page] [ESCAP Press Release] [UN News Story]