But the situation is much worse in poor countries without the resources to protect their population or economy against catastrophes. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods impose an economic toll that can disrupt and undermine a fragile country for a long time. Costs from natural disasters are increasing largely because more people choose to live in harm’s way. First, the authors propose designing schools that can withstand earthquakes to reduce damage and also the number of fatalities to children, teachers and other staff. Thirdly, they propose strengthening the roofs of houses in countries with high exposure to hurricanes and cyclones to reduce losses from wind damage. A disaster in one part of the world can have ripple effects on many other countries, so it should be in everybody’s interest to try to increase resiliency. On Monday, we will look at an issue that has really emerged as a focal point for the developing world in the past few years: biodiversity. Building codes are lacking or poorly enforced, and infrastructure is insufficient to send out information before a disaster, or assist victims promptly after it hits.

Retrofitting the schools in all 35 most-exposed countries around the world would save the lives of 250,000 individuals over the next 50 years. It would cost $5.2 trillion to elevate by one meter all houses subject to flooding in the 34 countries most susceptible to this hazard and another $940 billion to build walls around the relevant communities in all 34 countries. This would cost $951 billion in the 34 countries most prone to high wind events, with benefits ranging between two and three times this amount.
Based on existing studies and research from Stephane Hallegatte, they find that early warning systems in developing countries would require less than $1 billion a year and would have direct benefits (reductions in the losses from disasters) of between $1 billion and $5.5 billion per year.
As Kunreuther and Michel-Kerjan point out, there is a need to persuade international donors to start investing more systematically in disaster risk reduction before a disaster strikes, rather than focusing almost exclusively on post-disaster assistance, as they do today. If a few key decision makers, organizations and countries take the initiative this may lead others to follow suit, tipping the world in the right direction.
And, each day, I respond to your comments and update you on how readers are prioritizing pieces so far. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti starkly illustrated what happens when natural disasters strike an unprepared and poor country.

According to the reinsurer Munich Re, direct economic losses from natural catastrophes amounted to $1.6 trillion from 2001 to 2011. In an innovative paper for Copenhagen Consensus 2012 released today, Professors Howard Kunreuther and Erwann Michel-Kerjan from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania propose a series of concrete actions that would reduce the vulnerability of poor nations to such large-scale catastrophes. Costs vary dramatically from country to country: In the Solomon Islands it would cost just $36 million to retrofit schools with cumulative total benefits worth $187 million, but for all other countries the benefits are dramatically lower, meaning that any program of global reach would probably pay back less than the initial investment. And more governments in developed countries and multinational corporations need to provide funding and technical expertise to assist low-income countries in undertaking these measures.

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