OIC Countries & Natural Disasters: Assessment of Risks
Date : 23 May 2012

All throughout history, natural disasters have been one of the greatest challenges against development of human societies. Many races, cultures, and civilizations were formed, evolved, or demised depending on their knowledge, technology, and capability to cope with adversities of nature. While this may seem to be history, natural or human-caused disasters are still among the serious threats to societies’ socio-economic and political development around the world, even today. Floods, storms, epidemics, earthquakes, droughts, wild fires, and many more interrupt and distort the lives of many around the world again and again, in many instances taking lives, ruining investments, and forcing major relocations. Global warming, a human-caused global-scale natural hazard, will soon, if not already, severely and irreversibly impact our civilisation and its future if no serious actions are taken in near future.

Disasters are one of the major obstacles in the way of sustainable development in developing countries, especially among the least developed ones. The tragic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March of 2011 is estimated to have caused between $122 to $235 billion in physical damage, of which only $14 to $33 billion is likely to be borne by the private insurers leaving a substantial part to be borne by households and the government. Damages of such magnitude and only for one incidence of natural hazard are equivalent or more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of 146 of the 184 countries covered in the International Monetary Fund’s 2011 World Economic Outlook. In other words, a single disastrous event of the magnitude of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 (which also led to other adversities), with a financial cost of about only 4% of Japan’s GDP in 2010, may easily gobble up more than 100% of many countries’ whole economy and their many years of investment in socio-economic and political development and, thus, their futures.

Such disastrous threats to sustainable development, with such potential adverse impacts, should leave no doubt for any policy maker in any developing country that disaster risk reduction ought to be an integral part of any national or local economic development strategy and plan. Substantial investments in institutional and legal frameworks, physical infrastructures, education and awareness, and beyond are required to educate people and organisations, and create capacities for prevention, preparation, response and recovery, with emphasis on prevention and preparation. The OIC Countries, if not the most in need of such provisions, are no exceptions. This report is the first effort to evaluate the status of OIC member countries (MCs) with regard to natural disaster risks with the aim of identifying two main drivers of risk: being relatively more prone to natural hazards and/or vulnerabilities.

This report clearly illustrates that while different OIC countries suffer from different types of natural hazards, with various frequencies and magnitudes, it is in fact their vulnerability to risks, or the lack of conditions and capacities for properly managing and reducing the risk of disasters, that is the main culprit. Almost 100% of natural disasters and their impacts (fatal, non-fatal, and financial) in low income OIC countries (OIC-LI) during 1960-2009 took place in countries that are also identified as OIC countries with low capacities for risk reduction (OIC-LRRC). There is clearly no doubt that there is a real need for cooperation among all OIC countries, with assistance from outside, to offer a hand to the people and governments in these countries to reduce their vulnerabilities to natural disasters, and save lives. Investments in response mechanisms and capacities are quite important. However, effective risk management of disasters requires, and involves, more than just a response mechanism. Reducing the risk of disasters requires viewing disasters as major barriers to sustainable socio-economic development, and managing the risks through investing in and enhancing the capacities for preserving the environment and ecosystems, eradicating poverty and inequality, appropriate rural and urban development, and improving the quality of governance, all of which contribute to vulnerabilities. Viewing risk of disasters as barriers to sustainable development necessitates the inclusion of a disaster risk management strategy as an indispensable and integral part of the overall development strategy, which has its roots in environmentally friendly socio-economic and political development and at the same time serves as the guardian of all developmental efforts and investments.

This study is not free of shortcomings and, all in all, is an initial attempt at bringing the importance of the issue at hand to the attention of the policy makers in OIC countries. Further efforts are on the way for improving upon the existing shortcomings.

Online Electronic Version

OIC Countries & Natural Disasters: Assessment of Risks (English)