The Pressing Need for Improved Disaster Resilience

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The Pressing Need for Improved Disaster Resilience
By: Stephanie Sanok Kostro

From debilitation caused by blizzards and floods to destruction caused by hurricanes and wildfires, there is no single “natural disaster season” in the United States. Every month of every year, U.S. residents are at risk of death, injury, disease and other health concerns, homelessness, critical infrastructure failures, and economic hardship due to natural disasters. Annually, the United States can expect to experience 10 severe weather events exceeding $1 billion each in damage; 30 years ago, the expectation was only two such events annually.

This trend is in line with the experience of many nations around the world. Earlier this month, Munich Re, a company that specializes in reinsurance, released its annual report on global natural disaster costs over the last 30- plus years. Munich Re noted that, globally, losses from natural catastrophes in 2013 were relatively moderate, with direct overall losses of around $125 billion and 20,000 lives, but that the total number of catastrophes (880) was significantly higher than the 30-year average (630). In 2013, the costliest disaster was widespread flooding in Germany and neighboring nations (overall losses of $15.2 billion), and the most devastating was Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines (more than 6,000 people killed, more than 1 million left homeless).

Several disaster experts credit protection and resilience efforts—e.g., flood control measures, housing standards—with mitigating losses despite the growing number of events. In partnership with the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (HSCT) Program recently focused on disaster resilience, using public events, private roundtables, interviews, a video, and a policy paper to explore not only immediate responses but also longer-term efforts that are critical for preparedness, recovery, and future health of impacted communities. HSCT remains committed to drawing from experiences in the United States and elsewhere to help the government, industry, philanthropies, and other stakeholders enhance the preparedness and resilience of the nation—and perhaps other nations as well—as events continue to trend upward.

Stephanie Sanok Kostro is acting director of the CSIS Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program and a senior fellow with the CSIS International Security Program, where she focuses on a range of "seam" issues affecting defense, foreign affairs, and development. Other posts by .


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