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From flash floods and landslides to earthquakes and super typhoons, the Philippines has seen them all.
So it's no wonder that the country ranked third out of 173 countries in terms of susceptibility to disasters —next to small island nations Vanuatu and Tonga, also in the South Pacific, according to the World Risk Index of the 2012 World Disasters Report. These three nations have been on the top of the list for the second year in a row.
The United Nations University's Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), the German Alliance for Development Works (Alliance), and The Nature Conservancy —a US-based environment group— prepared the report. It was launched in Brussels, Belgium, on Oct. 11.
The World Risk Index measured every country's exposure and susceptibility to natural disasters, together with their coping and adaptive capacities using "globally available data." Vulnerability to disasters, according to the report, is dependent on public infrastructure, medical services, prevailing nutritional situation, governance, level of education, availability of insurance, as well as the condition of the environment.
For the past 10 years, the balance sheet for disaster shows an alarming record: 4,130 disasters worldwide, with over 1 million dead and economic losses of at least US $1.195 trillion.
Island states more prone to disasters
"The World Risk Index reveals global hotspots for disaster risk in Oceania, Southeast Asia, the southern Sahel and especially in Central America and the Caribbean. In these places a very high threat of natural disasters and climate change meets very vulnerable communities," said UNU-EHS Director Prof. Jakob Rhyner in a statement.
According to the report, "(H)igh exposure to natural hazards and climate change coincides with very vulnerable societies" in these regions.
Out of the 15 countries with the highest disaster risk worldwide, eight are island states, including the Philippines.
“The top 15 most at-risk nations are all tropical and coastal, where coastal habitats like reefs and mangroves are incredibly important for people’s lives and livelihoods. Reefs, for example, can reduce wave energy approaching coasts by more than 85 percent," the Nature Conservancy said in a statement on their website.
Adaptation is key
On the other hand, the report cited the Netherlands for its highly-developed coping and adaptation measures.
Dr. Jörn Birkmann, Scientific Head of the World Risk Index project in UNU-EHS said during the launch, "In Europe we find countries which are highly exposed to hazards, for example the Netherlands and Greece, but due to their level of preparedness the actual risk is quite low."
The report also highlighted environmental degradation as a significant factor in reducing the adaptive capacity of societies.
The Philippines, for example, even if it ranked high in susceptibility and lack of coping capacities, has favorable scores in "education and research," "environmental status and ecosystem," and "gender parity."
The country's score is actually comparable with its those of its neighbors, Thailand and Malaysia, which ranked 91st and 92nd in the Index, respectively.
Also for the second consecutive year, Qatar and Malta remained at the bottom of the list: historically, these countries have always fared low in exposure and susceptibility to natural disasters.
Focus on the environment
The study also focused on the link between environmental degradation and disaster occurrences. "So far, these insights have been given too little attention by politics and science," the report explained.
The report cited a number of cases where environmental degradation causes or worsen disaster impacts.
Further, it showed how the environment can be used to reduce these impacts. It said, "For example, if supply lines are severed, food and fresh water can be obtained from the immediate environment when that environment is healthy and intact."
"When the environment is in good condition, there is a greater diversity of future planning options. For example, in Haiti and other deforested and environmentally degraded areas, the opportunities for diversified strategies for reducing future vulnerability are greatly reduced. It is much easier to manage to reduce future risks when your natural," the report concluded. — TJD/HS, GMA News