Asia is the largest continent on the planet. It is divided into different regions and comprised of countless nations both big and small. You can just imagine how diverse this continent is in terms of geography, culture, language, religion, and ethnicity among others. It is also home to the most number of people who often have to endure various natural calamities and weather disturbances year in and year out. You name it, from hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, drought, volcanic eruptions etc., Asian people have experienced it all yet they remain resilient through the years and life goes on.
And mind you, some of these disasters were so magnanimous and have taken away with it thousands of lives. The 2004 Indian Tsunami was so unexpected and claimed hundred thousands of lives. And just quite recently, the super typhoon Haiyan known locally as typhoon “Yolanda” in the Philippines was the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded. It is also the deadliest typhoon to hit the Philippines claiming over 6,000 lives after its landfall.
Unfortunately, the threat of global warming and climate change made these natural disasters even stronger and more intense, so Asian people are experiencing natural calamities that are worse than they have ever experienced so far. And it is far from just being a threat because it is a reality people from all over the world now experience first-hand.
Total economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters almost doubled last year compared to the preceding year, with Asia suffering the highest damage. Globally, insured losses were also at their highest since 2012, a study from the research arm of global reinsurer Swiss Re Institute showed.
There were 327 disaster events globally in 2016, of which 191 were natural catastrophes and 136 man-made. In total, the disasters resulted in economic losses of US$175 billion (S$244 billion), almost double the US$94 billion in 2015, Swiss Re said.
While Asia is home to some of the most sought-after attractions and paradise islands, it is frequently ravaged by extreme weather disturbances and both natural and man-made calamities. Not only are lives lost but properties are destroyed and businesses suffer regardless how many times any given city or state attempts to rebuild and move on despite the large losses.
This month’s floods in Thailand are a worrisome reminder of the increasing uncertainty of extreme weather events. Thailand’s flood season usually ends in November, but this year, influenced by a low depression and a strong northeast monsoon, widespread flooding in the south of the country has killed more than sixty people, affected over 330,000 households, and resulted in widespread asset losses.
Far from being an anomaly, however, the unpredictability of these extreme weather events may become the norm. Using a United Nations global methodology to estimate future disaster losses, we anticipate that average annual losses in Thailand due to floods will reach more than $2.5 billion by 2030, or 0.65 per cent of the country’s 2015 GDP, which is the equivalent of 2.6 per cent of gross fixed capital formation, and 2 per cent of gross savings.
And all these destructions are partly our fault. If we only take care of the environment and mind our waste, Mother Nature won’t strike back this hard against us. But we should brace ourselves for bigger, stronger, and more damaging disasters to strike Asia in the years to come because climate change is just warming up.
Asia and the Pacific is one of the regions that is most vulnerable to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. And yet, most governments have limited financing arrangements for disaster response and the levels of disaster insurance penetration are very low.
As part of its efforts to help its developing member countries boost their capacity to anticipate and manage risks from climate change and natural disasters, the Asian Development Bank has been incorporating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation actions in its projects. ADB has also started to support efforts to address demand and supply constraints to increased penetration of disaster insurance.
“There’s widespread recognition of the need to strengthen financial preparedness for disasters [including through] homeowner, business, agricultural and microinsurance penetration,” Charlotte Benson, principal disaster risk management specialist at ADB, told Devex. There’s also considerable innovation in the area, she added.
The world is changing at a rapid rate and it is mainly because of us humans. We accelerated major environmental changes that took place for centuries but can now be seen happening in a matter of years or even months. Polar caps are melting and are causing the sea level to rise. Island nations like Maldives are in danger of disappearing from the face of the planet.
What makes it even more difficult for Asia to prepare or bounce back from disasters is that most of these countries are developing and struggling in resources themselves. They lack the funds necessary to prepare and rebuild their nations and often mostly rely on foreign aid to recover after suffering from major catastrophes. Economic losses make it even harder for them to recover. While we can’t really control the weather and all these natural disasters, we can start changing our ways and learn to look after nature from now on. Simple acts like reusing, reducing and recycling trash can do so much to counter flooding and pollution issues and eventually reduces the impact these disasters have on our lives.