MANILA: A staggering 40,000 people lost their lives due to natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region during the period 2003-2012 alone. Around 1.6 billion people were affected, while economic losses were estimated to be at $188 million per day.
These numbers were presented by Charlotte Benson, the senior disaster risk management specialist of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on September 30, while addressing journalists from ADB member countries.
“During the last five years, the numbers have been particularly alarming. The losses caused by disasters are increasing faster than the region is growing economically,” he said.
Listing the main factors that cause disasters, Benson said that natural reasons cannot be ruled out but it would not be fair to term disasters as “nature’s way” since there are other reasons like people living in hazard prone areas and vulnerability of infrastructures that equally responsible.
“There is a vast amount we can do and actions we can take to reduce the risk of damages caused by disasters,” he added, saying that the ADB has taken wide-range structural measures as well as non-structural ones to mitigate the risks.
Structural measures include infrastructure-related decisions regarding where to erect buildings or build roads, and figuring out ways to make them prone to disasters.
Non-structural measures are about forecasting the weather, having early warning systems and assessing disasters.
Highlighting the main challenge faced by countries, Benson said, “Government offices are usually equipped to provide humanitarian relief to the people, but they often do not have the development mindset.
For example, if the government is building a road, they will not be thinking about how they might be building it in a disaster-prone area. That’s not how they work.”
“Asia’s GDP [Gross Domestic Product] is increasing at a fast rate. In the future, it will be even higher, resulting in a more negative impact on the climate,” said Senior Advisor of ADB’s Regional and Sustainable Development Department (RSDD) Anthony Jude, during another session on September 29 at the headquarters.
“Everyone wants cheap electricity and are relying on several sources for that, but what the governments are not looking at are climatic hazards,” Jude added.
Among 15 largest gas emitters in the world, three are from Asia – China, India and Indonesia, said RSDD Advisor Preety Bhandari, adding that these countries have pledged to reduce their emissions by 2020.
The ADB says it is an organisation which deals in helping its member continues develop further, but not at the cost of climate change.
In relation to climate change, Benson said that the ADB has five priorities: Scaling up clean energy, have climate-friendly urban development and sustainable transport, promoting carbon, improving adaptation to climate change, and strengthening institutions that deal with climate change.
President Takehiko Nakao, in ADB’s Annual Report 2013, said, “The Asia and Pacific region is the fastest growing source of new greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Several of its countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards.
“It is critical that we in Asia and the Pacific continue to adopt to green growth practices, and build climate resilience into development projects.”
The president was also of the view that smarter infrastructure needs to be built that is both “less polluting” and “more resilient”.
Practicing what you preach
The ADB not only preaches its member countries on how to develop in a sustainable manner but also implements green energy practices at its headquarters in Manila to set an example.
The headquarters have a solar rooftop which contributes to around 3 per cent of the total power needed by the office building.
The ADB also recycles its waste produced at the office. The job has been outsourced to a recycling company, but takes place within the headquarters due to security concerns, as their paper products have confidential information on them.
ADB says it is also trying to reduce the use of paper in their offices in order to ensure a cleaner environment.