WorldRiskReport 2011

Searching for protection

Whether an earthquake or a tsunami, a hurricane or a flood, the risk that a natural event will develop into a disaster depends only partially on the strength of the event itself. A substantial cause lies in the living conditions of people in the affected regions and the opportunities to quickly respond and help. Those who are prepared and who know what to do during an extreme natural event have higher survival chances. The countries that anticipate natural hazards prepare for the consequences of climate change and provide the necessary financial resources are better equipped for the future.

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The Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft (Alliance Development Works) publishes the WorldRiskReport to examine these issues at the global level and to draw conclusions for future actions in assistance, policy and reporting. The core of the WorldRiskReport is the WorldRiskIndex, which was developed on behalf of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security in Bonn, Germany. The WorldRiskIndex indicates the probability that a country or region will be affected by a disaster. The index is the result of close cooperation between scientists and practitioners. Experts in the analysis of natural hazards and vulnerability research as well as practitioners of development cooperation and humanitarian aid have discussed and developed the concept of the index. Globally available data are used to represent the disaster risk for the countries concerned.

In the framework of the WorldRiskIndex, disaster risk is analysed as a complex interplay of natural hazards and social, political and environmental factors. Unlike current approaches that focus strongly on the analysis of the various natural hazards, the WorldRiskIndex, in addition to exposure analysis, focuses on the vulnerability of the population, i.e. its susceptibility, its capacities to cope with and to adapt to future natural events as well as the consequences of climate change. Disaster risk is seen as a function of exposure and vulnerability. The national states are the frame of reference for the analysis.

The index consists of indicators in four components: exposure to natural hazards such as earthquakes, storms, floods, droughts and sea level rise; susceptibility as a function of public infrastructure, housing conditions, nutrition and the general economic framework; coping capacities as a function of governance, disaster preparedness and early warning, medical services, social and economic security; and adaptive capacities to future natural events and climate change.

There is a fine line between the components; some adaptive measures, for example, directly lead to a decrease in individuals’ susceptibility or to an increase of coping capacities. In the approach of the World- RiskIndex, new aspects are included, for which no global database currently exists: national disaster preparedness policy, social networks, urban and spatial structure and national adaptation strategies. Again, this is the result of close cooperation between scientists and practitioners: high relevance categories for major disasters are included in the index, even if the relevant scientific data are not yet globally available. This provides the opportunity to directly implement current developments and integrate new knowledge in the WorldRiskReport: indeed, as soon as confirmed data are globally available, they can be integrated into the index: the structure consisting of four components with several sub-categories that make up the general index as mathematically linked modules makes this possible. Also, variables that have not yet been identified for assessing disaster risk can be integrated when needed and used to develop the WorldRiskIndex.

This report thus contributes to both identifying the aspects that urgently require research in order to better understand and evaluating the interaction between natural hazards and the affected society. Combined with the modular structure of the WorldRiskIndex, this process allows for the continuous improvement of the present risk analysis in the coming years. The WorldRiskIndex is complemented by a local risk index with a small-scale analysis that provides important information for practitioners. More data are often available at the regional or local level, and can be of interest for risk assessment. For instance, the members of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft also carry out risk analyses in their project work. Data resulting from these analyses – ideally with the help of scientists – can be incorporated into the modules of the World- RiskIndex, as shown in the WorldRiskReport 2011 with the example of several administrative units in Indonesia. The result is an index of high practical value.

Each global report has limitations in its validity. This also applies to the WorldRiskIndex: data on mutual neighbourhood assistance, traditional structures and self-help capacities are not available in a global comparison, unlike, for example, the number of hospital beds or per capita income. As a consequence, social factors are included to a lesser extent in the WorldRiskIndex than easily measurable technical or economic factors. This must be kept in mind when drawing conclusions for risk assessment; however, it also provides the opportunity to request a better analysis of these factors from policy and science.

The focal topic of the WorldRiskReport 2011 is governance and civil society. Three subchapters concentrate on the complex interaction of state responsibility and potential influences of civil society, viewed from the standpoint of practitioners. In addition to discussing the risk of weak governance with respect to disasters, they also examine the unintended side effects of external interventions (e.g. the risk of further undermining already weak governments) and the possibilities of civil society to call for government action, as well as to support and supplement it. The basic chapters examining these issues are supplemented by country-specific case studies that explain the operations and principles of the members of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft at the interface between disaster risk reduction and the promotion of good governance.

The aim of the WorldRiskReport 2011 is to shift away from the usually short-term view of disasters and concentrate on a developmental approach, focusing on aspects such as prevention, protection of particularly vulnerable groups and risk management.

Linking the social and economic dimensions of risk with the classical risk analysis of natural events will allow a new approach to risk assessment and enable forward-looking conclusions for both decision-makers and practitioners. Precautionary measures to minimize risks should be mentioned here as well as climate change adaptation.

The aim of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft is to jointly consider relief aid and development cooperation, and to link them more closely in practice. Risk assessment, prevention, coping and adaptation strategies are the components of this concept. The index and the indicators can help to be selectively active in anticipation of extreme natural events and to prioritize preventive measures. In early 2005 the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Brot für die Welt, Medico International, Misereor, Terre des Hommes and Welthungerhilfe founded the alliance whose mission is to actively provide on-site emergency and long-term help in emergencies and disasters. After the tsunami in Southeast Asia, the cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the earthquake in Haiti and the flood in Pakistan in 2010, and many other cases, the members of the Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft joined forces. The Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft is active in public relations in Germany, informing on the causes of disasters as well as on ways of disaster prevention. The printed version of the WorldRisk Report is published for easy readability. Maps, graphs and images supplement the text. The underlying detailed scientific explanation, further information and tables are available for further reading and can be downloaded at

Published: 29. September 2011

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