Clocks read 2:46 p.m. when one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded struck off the Pacific coast of Japan on March 11, exactly two years ago. The shaking lasted six endless minutes, generating a devastating tsunami that took countless lives and livelihoods. Two years later, the tragic images are still fresh in our minds.
As one of the most geologically violent areas in the world, Japan has a centuries-long tradition of disaster risk management. That tradition saved lives and prevented damage and today serves as a tangible reminder to the world of the value of mainstreaming disaster preparedness and risk management into development, particularly in vulnerable regions.
Critical decisions need to be taken in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but the decisions and actions that make the difference are the ones that come long before: the decisions to invest in disaster risk management, to design infrastructure that can withstand earthquakes, to strengthen early warning systems.
“If we don’t invest in resilience, we simply can’t afford to continue to develop the way that we do," said World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte.
High cost of disasters
While the Japanese experience is a reminder that no country – rich or poor - is immune from the impacts of disasters, the statistics tell us that poor and vulnerable countries are the ones that suffer the most.
The last few years have seen the highest disaster losses ever recorded, continuing a trend that has seen economic costs continuously grow. Since 1980, the economic costs of disasters in developing countries amounted to $1.2 trillion – about a third of all official development aid. Over that same period, low-income countries have accounted for only 9 percent of the total number of disasters, but 48 percent of the fatalities. Climate change is increasing the risk.
Looking ahead, as countries and cities in the developing world grow at record pace – and with them, so does exposure to disasters – there is a unique window of opportunity to invest in resilience and achieve a sustainable growth path.