WorldRiskReport: Less vulnerability but more extreme weather events

Vulnerability to extreme natural hazards appears to have decreased over the last few years, according to the WorldRiskReport. However, threats owing to weather extremes are on the increase.

The WorldRiskReport 2017 was presented at the Bonn Climate Conference in November 2017. Since 2011, the WorldRiskReport has been published annually by Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, and the WorldRiskIndex it contains was developed together with the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University (UNU-EHS).

The WorldRiskIndex states the average risk of an extreme natural event leading to a disaster in a total of 171 countries. Risk is calculated by multiplying a society’s exposure to natural hazards by its vulnerability.  In the Index, vulnerability consists of the three components susceptibility, lack of coping capacities and lack of adaptive capacities.

This year’s WorldRiskReport contains a five-year analysis of the WorldRiskIndex. The global disaster hotspots are located in Central America, West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania. Out of the 15 countries highest at risk world-wide, eight are island nations, while the rest have long coastlines.

Climate extremes were expected to occur more frequently in the future

“Our analyses in 2017 demonstrate that vulnerability to extreme natural events has decreased on a global scale. Many countries have drawn their lessons from previous disasters and are improving disaster preparedness,” said Peter Mucke, Managing Director of “Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft”, an alliance of German and international relief organisations, in Bonn.

Mucke warned against false optimism, explaining that extreme weather events such as storms and heavy rain were in fact on the increase. Climate extremes such as prolonged drought were expected to occur more frequently in the future as well.

“The decrease in vulnerability may be offset by an increase in exposure to natural hazards,” Mucke cautioned. Binding commitments to check the consequences of climate change and progress in development co-operation and disaster preparedness were therefore indispensable.

Mucke noted risks could differ in the various regions of a country. The calculating model used in the WorldRiskIndex takes this into account and can also be applied in analyses on a smaller scale – for example for coastal areas.

Additional data available at regional or local level can be worked into the respective risk assessment. The modular structure of the WorldRiskIndex enables a local or regional risk index to be developed in analogy. 

“The WorldRiskIndex provides extensive indications of what the need for action looks like at the levels referred to. Nations and their populations can develop and implement strategies and measures to protect themselves against the consequences of extreme natural events and limit the extent of damage,” Mucke maintained.

“A sound risk analysis and the assessments derived from the Index are of central importance to countries in disaster preparedness.” The research on coastal management in the Philippines and the recommendations for action derived from it are an example of how such analysis can inform appropriate policies.

Report on risk reduction benefits from mangroves

Mangroves form a natural defence protecting habitats from storms, floods and erosion. While a mangrove’s roots retain sediments and prevent erosion, its trunk and the prop roots growing from it as well as the tree’s canopy lessen the force of tides and wind, and they reduce flooding. Between 1980 and 2005, 19 per cent of the mangroves across the world were lost.

Decimation of mangroves was especially marked in the Philippines, a country at particular risk from coastal hazards such as floods, storms or sea-level rise. However, the Philippine government has recognised the important role that mangroves play in protecting coastal areas and has committed to restoring them as part of its risk reduction programme.

Together with Spain’s Environmental Hydraulics Institute IH Cantabria, the Nature Conservancy, an international conservation organisation based in Arlington, Virginia, USA has compiled a report on risk reduction benefits from mangroves in the Philippines the results of which have been blended with a risk analysis contained in the WorldRiskIndex. The Index is published annually in the WorldRiskReport.

More information: WorldRiskReport 

Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany