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Measuring Natural Risks to Development

Mother Nature does not like to be taken for granted. The world has seen enough landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis to know that nature can react violently when she's ignored. Development experts know that it's important to take natural hazard risks into account during project planning. But sometimes knowing something and planning for it are not the same thing.

“Despite a rapid escalation in disaster losses in recent decades, many development organizations remain reluctant to pursue risk reduction as a key objective, or even to protect their own projects against potential hazards, without proof that mitigation ‘pays,'” said Charlotte Benson, a consultant to the IDB, in a presentation at Bank headquarters.

Benson and her colleague John Twigg of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre at the University College of London, are heading a project to develop methodologies for assessing natural hazard risks for the Provention Consortium , of which the IDB is a member. The Consortium is an international coalition of organizations that are working collaboratively to raise awareness about natural hazard risks, improve the safety of vulnerable communities, and reduce the impact of disasters in developing countries.

The project's goal is to create tools for development organizations to use to help them take risks emanating from natural disasters into account throughout the project cycle, from the time a project is initially identified until its final evaluation. The tools will also help project teams to assess risk reduction options.

“Natural hazards and related vulnerability should be considered as part of all forms of project appraisal, particularly for high-risk areas,” Benson stressed. “Existing appraisal and evaluation guidelines should be revised to provide more explicit guidance on analyzing hazard-related risks and options for reducing vulnerability.”

The good news is, Benson believes, evaluating natural hazard risks is easy to do. “Many of the standard tools currently used by development organizations in designing projects could be used to assess risks from natural hazards and potential returns to mitigation. There is nothing intrinsically difficult about either.”

In addition to adapting existing tools, Benson sees value in encouraging the participation of the people living in vulnerable areas in the risk evaluation process. “Vulnerable people know the risks and communicate them, if given the opportunity,” she said.

Developing some of the practical tools that Benson has recommended is the next step in the project, which is scheduled for completion at the end of 2006. The end product will be a handbook on methods and tools for evaluating the socioeconomic benefits of disaster reduction, including detailed guidelines for evaluations and risk assessments, cases studies, best practices, and evidence of the net benefits of risk reduction.

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