Wildfire, floods don’t need to turn into disasters

For instance, deforestation leads to soil erosion, which in turn makes land highly susceptible to hazards, such as landslides, drought and sandstorms. 

In Ambovombe in the Androy region of Madagascar, a boy takes shelter on a tree that grows in the direction the ‘Tioka’ wind blows to protect himself from the sandy wind. | Photograph courtesy of UNICEF

Hazards such as earthquakes, floods, heatwaves, and wildfires can be prevented from becoming life-threatening disasters, according to the authors of a UN report launched recently.

From record-breaking heatwaves in British Columbia to wildfires in the Mediterranean, floods in Nigeria and droughts in Taiwan, the period between 2021 and 2022 saw record -breaking catastrophic disasters in all corners of the world.

Some 10,000 people lost their lives, and an estimated $280 billion was incurred in damages worldwide.

The latest Interconnected Disaster Risks report from the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security finds that many of these disasters shared root causes. At the same time, the study’s authors found that the solutions to preventing or managing them are also closely linked.

Storm clouds hang over Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. | Photograph courtesy of UN

Connecting the dots

“Disasters occurring in completely different parts of the world at first appear disconnected from each other. But when you start analyzing 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 deputy director of UNU-EHS, said.

To connect the dots, the research team of the Interconnected Disaster Risks report looked “below the surface” of each disaster and identified the drivers that allowed them to occur in the first place.

For instance, deforestation leads to soil erosion, which in turn makes land highly susceptible to hazards, such as landslides, drought and sandstorms.

An even deeper dive shows that the drivers of disasters are formed by shared root causes, which are more systemic in nature, such as through economic and political systems.

Deforestation can be traced back to placing economic interests over those of the environment and to unsustainable consumption patterns.

Other common root causes found in the report include inequality of development and livelihood opportunities, human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, and legacies of colonialism. It is root causes like these that can be found in disasters around the globe.

The connections do not stop at root causes and drivers either, but also with who and what is at most risk; vulnerable groups, in both human settlements and natural ecosystems, continue to be the hardest hit by disasters.

‘Let nature work’

However, the solutions are also interconnected, which means that one type of solution can be applied in several contexts to reduce the impact of disasters in different parts of the world. Additionally, there are multiple solutions to address one disaster, and they are most powerful when applied in combination with each other.

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