Elizabeth Ferris discusses the impacts of natural disasters in 2012 in this four-part video series based on her report. While overall humanitarian funding in 2012 was stable, funding for natural disasters dropped.
This map shows the worldwide distribution of natural disasters that occurred in 2012, according to Munich Re, NatCatSERVICE. With more than 25,000 entries, NatCatSERVICE is one of the leading global databases for natural catastrophes. More than ever humanitarian workers are seeking timely and reliable information to help them plan and deliver humanitarian responses to disasters and crises that are happening worldwide.
2011 was the most expensive year in terms of disaster losses in history, mostly because of a spate of disasters affecting developed countries. Examples from last-year’s disasters in the rich world show that investment in disaster risk reduction and preparedness pay off and are cheaper than postdisaster reconstruction. Several positive trends in international humanitarian response were evident in the course of 2011, including promising developments in international disaster law, greater emphasis on disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and better communications during crises, including the use of social media in disaster response.
There are still major methodological difficulties in terms of measuring the effects of natural disasters, especially when it comes to measuring the economic costs of disasters and understanding the particular characteristics of slow-onset disasters such as drought.
The interconnections between disasters (especially mega-disasters), media coverage and humanitarian funding means that humanitarian funding tends to be directed toward disasters that have higher media coverage rather than to those with disaster-affected populations in greater need of assistance. Reviewing 2011’s natural disasters, Elizabeth Ferris and Daniel Petz analyze the range of disasters and lessons to be learned from those that occurred in developed countries.
Globally, the economic cost of disasters in 2011 was $380 billion, of which $210 billion were the result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. While natural disasters result in higher economic losses in rich countries, fewer people tend to be affected and loss of life is less than in developing countries.
The number of disasters was almost 20 percent below the average annual figure of 384 natural disasters from 2001-2010. Higher levels of preparedness, resilience and good governance in many cases help richer countries to recover faster from natural disasters than poorer ones.

Recurring disasters have severe negative effects on human development by undermining the resilience of affected individuals and communities. After several years of mega-disasters and consequent high funding for disaster response, international humanitarian disaster funding dipped to the relatively low level witnessed in 2009.
The gender dimensions of natural disasters have gained increasing recognition at the international level since the 1990s.
From the earthquake and tsunami in Japan to fourteen disasters causing over a billion dollars each in damage in the United States, 2011 was particularly damaging for developed countries. In terms of both the number of disasters and the number of people affected by them, 2011 was a below-average year in comparison with the previous decade. Post-disaster recovery and reconstruction after a major disaster are long-term processes which need much more scrutiny and attention. With 302 disasters recorded by the International Disaster Database (EM-DAT), 2011 saw the lowest number of disasters since the beginning of the millennium.
In the absence of a generally accepted definition, this report defines a recurring disaster as “the recurrence of a single natural hazard in the same geographic region within a one-year period.” This report seeks to draw some lessons for humanitarian actors and policy makers from recurring disasters in 2011 and 2012. Resolving livelihood issues as well as finding durable solutions for those displaced by disasters are core components of successful disaster recovery. In comparison with the annual averages over the past decade, fatalities in 2012 were far below average and the amount of economic losses was close to the ten-year average. In most regions, governments and other actors see value in working together to prevent disasters and, to a lesser extent, to respond to disasters occurring in the region.
There were 156 wildfire disasters reported over the 2000-2011 period, making up only 3.39 percent of all natural disasters recorded during that period.
It is now generally recognized that women are typically at greater risk from natural hazards than men, particularly in low-income countries and among the poor, and that they often also face particular protection risks in the period following a disaster. In view of the information collated, the extent and intensity of individual natural hazard events in various parts of the world can be documented and used to analyse regional and global hazards as well as trends. While developed countries generally have the resources to respond to the effects of natural disasters, when a major disaster strikes they still have to deal with responding to offers of international assistance.

More work is needed to recognize the positive contributions which older people can make in reducing the risks from disasters, in disaster response and in recovery and reconstruction.
The devastation caused by recurring disasters in 2012 also highlights the need for increased commitment and investment in disaster risk reduction. Data on the number of disasters is mixed, with disaster databases showing both above and below average numbers for 2012. The 780 fatalities from wildfires recorded by the international disaster database make up 0.07 percent of global disaster fatalities during the period.
Indeed, natural disasters and climate change often exacerbate existing inequalities and discrimination, including those that are gender-based, and can lead to new forms of discrimination. The implementation of sound disaster (and displacement) laws and policies can play an important role in mitigating the negative effects of recurring disasters and can contribute to the development of more resilient societies.
While there are few binding regional instruments in disaster risk management, regional organizations have worked out different mechanisms for encouraging collaboration, including frameworks for disaster risk reduction, regional military protocols, joint training exercises and regional insurance schemes. However, it is also important to recognize that women play significant roles in all stages of disaster and climate risk management; they are often at the frontline as responders and bring valuable resources to risk reduction and recovery efforts. Yet, in practice, disaster risk management policies and processes throughout the world largely exclude the important work already being done by women.
We argue that the effective and meaningful participation of women in policy-making, programming and implementation is crucial to increasing the success of disaster risk management in all phases. This participation, combined with timely and adequate attention to the gendered aspects of disasters and climate change, can in turn lead to greater gender equality and strengthen the resilience of entire communities.

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