Two Reports: one message – the more we grow together, the more we grow apart

2011 saw the publication of two reports on international ‘risk’; one published early in the year by the Risks Report Network of the World Economic Forum (the Global Risks Report 2011) and the second the World Risk Report 2011 from the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works – a coalition of 5 NGOs) and the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security.  Both reports highlight one common message – ‘the more we grow together, the more we grow apart’. No surprises there!

The Global Risks Report comes from the World Economic Forum – the international organisation which brings together business, political, academic and other ‘leaders of society’ (their phrase – the Report is full of self-promotion!) to influence global, regional and industry agendas – and assesses different worldwide ‘risks’ and reviews economic ‘divergences’, disparity and equity in addition to issues relating to the sustainability of current growth models.  One of the core messages in the 2011 report is simple and obvious – at least to those of us familiar with global development – or should I say, underdevelopment – issues.  As the world becomes more ‘globalised’ – integrated and interconnected – the more it becomes fragmented and divergent.

The two especially significant risks identified are economic disparity and the failure of global governance – failures such as the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the lack of agreement at the Copenhagen Conference on climate change are cited. The Report then notes an astounding discovery – ‘the benefits of globalization seem unevenly spread – a minority is seen to have harvested a disproportionate amount of the fruits’, and ‘there is evidence that economic disparity within countries is growing’. An additional risk is highlighted in the ‘water-food-energy’ nexus as population increases and consumption patterns place unsustainable pressure on resources.

The Report highlights key components of ‘disaster risk’ – exposure to natural hazards and climate change and social vulnerability on the other – the two go hand in hand.  Disasters cannot be attributed to meteorological or geological phenomena alone but are determined also by social structures and processes such as level of education, extent of poverty, food situation or functioning government.  According to a researcher for the Report:

‘For example, the Netherlands and Hungary are relatively highly exposed to natural hazards and climate change but due to their social, economic and ecological situations, they have a comparatively good ranking in the risk index’.

‘Similarly, the earthquakes of Haiti and Japan strongly demonstrate this relationship. While 28,000 people died in the Japan earthquake (9.0 on the moment-magnitude scale), 220,000 people died in Haiti in a much weaker earthquake measuring 7.0 on the moment-magnitude scale.  This was because although Japan’s earthquake was stronger, the country could cope better. Its buildings and infrastructure was more resistant’.

The Report shows that after Vanuatu, the world’s most disaster-prone countries are Tonga, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Guatemala and Bangladesh.

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The World Risk Report 2011 evaluates the interactions between exposure to natural hazards and climate change, and factors of social vulnerability, including levels of poverty, education, food security and governance and it examines why some countries are able to cope better than others in response to disasters and climate change.

A key feature of the report is the World Risk Index which calculates and compares risk values for 173 countries worldwide, ranking regions and countries facing a high disaster risk. Ranking is based on four key components – exposure to natural hazards and potential risks; likeliness of suffering harm and susceptibility as a function of public infrastructure; coping capacities, including governance and capacity to reduce negative consequences of hazards; and adaptive capacities to future natural events and climate change.

The Report highlights the relevance of governance issues and civil society on disaster risk. Based on the country case studies of India and Bangladesh, it indicates that weak government is one of the most important risk factors.

Two concluding quotes from the Report:

‘Emerging and developing countries will not be able to follow the development path of developed countries, which was based on the use of fossil fuels.’

‘The reduction of social vulnerability (e.g. by reducing poverty), the promotion of better coping capacities (e.g. through good governance and strengthening of social networks) and the strengthening of adaptive capacities (e.g. through education) are realistic options for actions in reducing risk and thus can help to prevent future disasters and crises.’

The Report shows that after Qatar, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Iceland and Bahrain are the world’s least ‘at risk’ countries.

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