Tiempo Climate Newswatch
Can Disasters Help to Improve a Country's Economy?
The Blue Carbon Portal brings together the latest knowledge and resources on the role of oceans as carbon sinks.
WalkIt provides walking routes between user-defined points in selected British cities, with an estimate of the carbon savings.
Joto Afrika is a series of printed briefings and online resources about adapting to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa.
The CoolClimate Art Contest presents iconic images that address the impact of climate change.
About the Cyberlibrary
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary was developed by Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich on behalf of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development, with sponsorship from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
While every effort is made to ensure that information on this site, and on other sites that are referenced here, is accurate, no liability for loss or damage resulting from use of this information can be accepted.
The e-discussion "Can disasters help to improve a country's economy?" was organized by the Asia Pacific Mountain Network in response to an article by Drake Bennett, which appeared on the Boston Globe website in July 2008. The article was entitled "How disasters help: Natural disasters can give a boost to the countries where they occur - and sometimes, the more the better." A total of 32 contributions were received from Asia Pacific Mountain Network/Mountain Forum members from July 7-18th 2008, sharing valuable information and ideas. Contributions came from a wide range of professionals from research institutions, academia, development and rehabilitation organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society.
The article by Bennett suggests that the earthquake that hit Sichuan Province in China in May 2008, leaving more than 80,000 dead and causing widespread devastation, has also helped the country’s economy. According to a state information centre, the funds allocated to rebuilding far outweigh the economic loss caused by the quake, enough to raise national economic growth by 0.3 per cent. A lively e-discussion developed around this theme and is summarized in this report.
The position of discussants can be grouped broadly into three categories.
Disasters are unnecessary, but if tackled properly can boost the economy
Disasters can provide an opportunity to bring technological solutions, economic development and other benefits to a country, particularly to disaster-affected areas. The 1991 eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines severely affected the American Clark Air Base and the Subic Naval Base. Post eruption, after the Americans left, financial resources, investment and infrastructure poured into the area, turning Luzon into an economic hub. Another example is the Bhuj earthquake in India in 2001, which brought about the complete destruction of the city of Bhuj. This disaster provided an opportunity for the city to be rebuilt in a planned manner.
Supporting this line of thought, one discussant provided the example of the 2004 tsunami, after which the Indonesian Government was able to make a peace agreement with the separatist group who were fighting against the Indonesian Government to establish a free nation. Now the peace process is going well.
This school of thought is considered to be a deviation from conventional thinking and popular perceptions of disasters, however. A few discussants agreed about the economic facts and figures, but cautioned that this does not imply that disasters are something we should look for. Economic development does not necessarily equate to development overall. There is also no direct correlation between disasters and economic growth. In many countries, economic growth has widened income inequality, even while pulling a significant percentage of the population out of poverty. To many, economic growth is a mixed blessing.
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, referred to by some discussants, emphasizes that disasters that result in development do not necessarily improve the lives of the poor. Natural disasters can provide an opportunity to rapidly introduce structural adjustment policies and free market reforms. An example of this is the reconstruction of the Sri Lankan and Thai coastlines after the tsunami in 2005. Smallholders and fishing families have been forcibly displaced in favour of large tourism projects. This indicates that a short-term rise in regional and national economic indicators following a natural disaster is not necessarily a good sign and is certainly not evidence of development for the people worst affected.
Some discussants argued that, although in the short-term disasters may give rise to opportunities to improve the economy, in the long-term, these gains are not sustainable. Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake killed thousands of people and wiped out a whole generation of mountain people and communities. International donors invested large sums of money in relief and rehabilitation. Even though there were efforts to manage and channel the funds, a lot of money is alleged to be unaccounted for. The lesson is that proper transparent mechanisms are needed to manage funds invested by international donors to benefit affected communities and ensure sustainable economic improvement.
Discussants argued that disasters cause a lot of discomfort and suffering and that, although there may be some initial benefits from reconstruction, which may be perceived to be development, it is mainly the development workers, such as building contractors and NGOs, that stand to benefit.
Disasters maintain the balance of nature
One of the discussants argued that disasters of a low intensity are beneficial in helping to maintain the balance of nature, referring to the Malthusian Theory, which proposes that continuous rapid increases in population need to be checked by natural disasters. Others noted that natural disasters such as floods, landslides, forest fires and so on contribute to ecological niches and help the survival and perpetuation of the species inhabiting the area. Natural disasters are perceived as a crucial tool by which nature maintains its dynamics. Another discussant brought in the Hindu mythological ideas of destruction and reconstruction, referring to the Pralaya Mahapralaya theory.
Disasters cause loss and should not be viewed as an opportunity
The majority of discussants considered that disasters are essentially about loss and should not be seen as an opportunity. Some expressed concern that the argument that disasters present an opportunity may lead to the same logic as "war is good". Disaster impacts are multifaceted and not entirely manifest or visible. Economic impact is just one dimension of a disaster and closely linked to this are the social, environmental, health and human dimensions, which make up the integrated impact of a disaster. To say that disasters help the economy is a materialistic view.
As one of the discussants argued, as well as loss of life, disasters entail a loss of investment in those who are killed and have a long-term psychological impact on those who survive, affecting their capacities and capabilities and resulting in a loss of productivity, opportunity costs and more. Therefore, the indirect cost of a disaster is much larger than the direct cost. A loss is a loss and cannot be turned into an investment and produce income or benefits. In addition, losses are not limited to lives, materials and animals, but also include traditional wisdom and knowledge, making future settlements more prone to natural disasters.
It was pointed out by one of the discussants that today’s settlements are not planned considering the environment or geological stability, but instead are based on economic factors, which makes them highly vulnerable to disasters. The discussants encouraged planned, geofriendly settlements to avert disasters and help improve economies.
OXFAM International’s report, Rethinking Disasters, states that disasters not only cause immediate suffering, but hold back long-term development. About two to six per cent of South Asia’s gross domestic product (GDP) is lost to disasters every year and poor people are the worst affected. For example, in Sindh, Pakistan, in 2006, farmers lost 60 per cent of their annual income just because of damage to their cash crops.
The factors that turn natural events into a human disaster are generally the result of human action and inaction. Loss due to natural disasters is largely caused by human activities. Climate change has increased human vulnerability to disasters, especially the vulnerability of the poor. Inappropriate policies, weak infrastructure, poor governance and corruption, ineffective monitoring and communication, bad development decisions, injustice, and discrimination are some of the human factors that aggravate disasters.
Learning from past disasters, better preparedness and planning and mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into development planning are needed to minimize the adverse impacts of disasters. Preparedness should be oriented towards increasing the awareness of authorities about the long-lasting effects of disasters on all people, especially the poor and on the environment and the Earth as a whole.
The e-discussion was moderated by Mandira S Shrestha, Tek Jung Mahat and Daan Boom. Discussants included Agha Iqrar Haroon, Basu Dev Regmi, Benedicto Q Sánchez, Bhubaneswor Dhakal, Brian MacCall, C S Silori, Emman Maceda, Ganga Nakarmi, Gehendra Gurung, Gobinda Palit, Him Lal Shrestha, Ishara Mahat, Jahangir Meher, Kishor Pradhan, Krishna Dhakal, Kundan Dhakal, Mandira S Shrestha, Mayumi Yamada, Mohinder Slariya, Neel Kamal Chapagain, Nishant Alag, P C Joshi, Rajendra K C, Ritesh Arya, Shanker Raj Barsila, Shirish S Garud, Sreedhar Ramamurthi, Srabani Roy, Ujol Sherchan, Will Tuladhar-Douglas and Wolfgang Bayer.
Asia Pacific Mountain Network, c/o Daan Boom, Coordinator, or Tek Jung Mahat, Node Manager, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, GPO Box 3226, Kathmandu, Nepal. Fax: +977-1-5003299/5003277. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: www.icimod.org/?page=168.
General Electric plans to cut solar installation costs by half
Project 90 by 2030 supports South African school children and managers reduce their carbon footprint through its Club programme
Bath & North East Somerset Council in the United Kingdom has installed smart LED carriageway lighting that automatically adjusts to light and traffic levels
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Public Gardens Association are mounting an educational exhibit at Longwood Gardens showing the link between temperature and planting zones
The energy-efficient Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers hotel is powered by renewable and sustainable sources, including integrated solar photovoltaics and guest-powered bicycles
El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands, plans to generate 80 per cent of its energy from renewable sources
The green roof on the Remarkables Primary School in New Zealand reduces stormwater runoff, provides insulation and doubles as an outdoor classroom
The Weather Info for All project aims to roll out up to five thousand automatic weather observation stations throughout Africa
SolSource turns its own waste heat into electricity or stores it in thermal fabrics, harnessing the sun's energy for cooking and electricity for low-income families
The Wave House uses vegetation for its architectural and environmental qualities, and especially in terms of thermal insulation
The Mbale compost-processing plant in Uganda produces cheaper fertilizer and reduces greenhouse gas emissions
At Casa Grande, Frito-Lay has reduced energy consumption by nearly a fifth since 2006 by, amongst other things, installing a heat recovery system to preheat cooking oil
Tiempo Climate Newswatch