Comparative susceptibility to natural disasters in the Caribbean

Author(s): Crowards, Tom (1999)

Created 22 Jul, 1999
Categories Working Papers
Views: 2133
Natural disasters can have catastrophic impacts. These may be economic, social and environmental. Damage to infrastructure can severely impede economic activity. Social impacts can include loss of life, injury, ill health, homelessness and disruption of communities. Environmental damage can range from the felling of trees to the reshaping of entire landscapes. Measuring the comparative susceptibility of countries to natural disasters can serve to draw attention to the issue, to identify sectors of the economy or society that are particularly at risk, and to assist in planning to mitigate the effects of future events. In addition, a wider international comparison may serve to highlight the particular vulnerability to natural disasters of small island states such as those of the Caribbean. A convincing comparison between countries will need to quantify susceptibility to disasters. This will inevitably be based, at least in part, on the historical incidence of events and their magnitude. The most commonly recorded impacts of natural disasters are the number of deaths, the number of injuries, the number of people homeless, the total number of people [affected] and the monetary cost of damage caused. The value of these measures for comparing impacts and hence susceptibility between countries is considered. The key problem with each of the measures stems from the quality of the data. In many instances, data are simply not available. A comparison between regions of the world is carried out in terms of numbers of disasters experienced, persons affected, and the number of deaths resulting. The use of recent data, between 1993 and 1997, and pooling within regions may serve to balance some of the inaccuracies identified in the underlying data. The results suggest that the Caribbean experiences a relatively high number of natural disaster events. The number of people affected by disasters, however, is comparatively low, although the number of deaths that result is high. Various sources of data of natural disaster impacts are used to rank selected Caribbean countries, in an effort to identify those countries that are most susceptible. Concerns with the underlying data suggest that any ranking should be treated cautiously. However, the results from different studies and sources of data differ tremendously, making anything other than broad qualitative statements impossible. The study concludes that it is feasible, based on the data employed, to rank countries according to their relative susceptibility to natural disasters. Ideally, a comparative analysis would be based on probabilities of future events, and their impact, and not simply on limited historical information.

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