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Towards disaster proof development

According to the latest Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, disaster events reported per year have increased significantly in the last two decades. While there were relatively more disaster peak years in the decade 2000–2009 compared to 2010–2019, overall frequency remains at an all-time high in recent years. Between 1970 and 2000, reports of medium- and large-scale disasters averaged around 90–100 per year, but between 2001 and 2020, the reported number of such events increased to 350–500 per year. These included geophysical disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, climate- and weather-related disasters, and outbreaks of biological hazards including crop pests and epidemics. If current trends continue, the number of disasters per year globally may increase from around 400 in 2015 to 560 per year by 2030 – a projected increase of 40%.

In addition to the direct human costs, disasters can also have environmental impacts on a massive scale. Biodiversity and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to the impacts of natural hazards, industrial pollution, failures in infrastructure such as dams and levees, introduced plants and animals, and climate change. Tropical storms can greatly upset the natural ecosystem, disrupting coastal fish, insect, bird and mammal habitats, particularly when water quality is affected when sewage facilities flood or debris enters reservoirs and waterways. Wildfires, floods and drought can completely defoliate forests and cause structural changes to ecosystems. Wildlife and endangered species can be killed by the force of hazards or affected indirectly through changes in habitat and food availability. Beaches move and change shape due to storm surges. River banks erode during flash-flood events.

The degradation of ecosystems and their exposure to destructive forces, such as wildfires, floods, drought and invasive species, are exacerbating vulnerabilities around the world. Disasters have a strong negative association with Biodiversity.

Although, historically, economic development has been highly beneficial to human health, life expectancy and living standards, the pressures of population growth, increased consumption of natural resources and industrialization are producing ever greater negative impacts on environmental systems. Current development pathways need to be adjusted. If progress towards poverty reduction is to be sustainable, the global material footprint per capita needs to be reduced. To foster sustainable development for all, there is a need for countries to consider how energy and products are produced and consumed, so that sustainable development and climate change targets can be achieved at a global scale.

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