Tag Archives: Resilience

Measuring Disaster Risk for Global UN Goals

A dispiriting part of the aftermath of a disaster is hearing about the staggering number of deaths and seemingly insurmountable economic losses. Many of the disaster risk reduction programs that implement disaster prevention and preparedness capabilities are helping to create more resilient communities. These worthwhile programs require ongoing financing, and their success must be measured and evaluated to continue to justify the allocation of limited funds.

There are two global UN frameworks being renewed this year:

Both frameworks will run for 15 years. This is the first time explicit numerical targets have been set around disaster risk, and consequently, there is now a more pressing need to measure the progress of disaster risk reduction programs to ensure the goals are being achieved.

The most obvious way to measure the progress of a country’s disaster risk reduction would be to observe the number of deaths and economic losses from disasters.

However, as we have learned in the insurance industry in the early 1990s, this approach presents big problems around data sampling. A few years or even decades of catastrophe experience do not give a clear indication of the level of risk in a country or region because catastrophes have a huge and volatile range of outcomes. An evaluation that is purely based on observed deaths or losses can give a misleading impression of success or failure if countries or regions are either lucky in avoiding (or unlucky in experiencing) severe disaster events during the period measured.

A good example is the 2010 Haiti earthquake, which claimed more than 200,000 lives and cost more than $13 billion. Yet for more than 100 years prior to this devastating event, earthquakes in Haiti had claimed fewer than 10 lives.

Haiti shows that it is simply not possible to determine the true level of risk from 15 years of observations for a single country. Even looking at worldwide data, certain events dominate the disaster mortality data, and progress cannot be measured.

Global disaster-related mortality rate (per million global population), 1980–2013 (From Setting, measuring and monitoring targets for disaster risk reduction: recommendations for post-2015 international policy frameworks. Source: adapted from www.emdat.be)

A more reliable way to measure the progress of disaster risk reduction programs is to use a probabilistic methods, which rely on a far more extensive range of possibilities, simulating tens of thousands of catastrophic events. These can then be combined with data on exposures and vulnerabilities to output metrics of specific interest for disaster risk reduction, such as houses or lives lost. Such metrics can be used to:

  • Measure disaster risk in a village, city, or country and how it changes over time
  • Analyze the cost-benefit of mitigation measures:
    • For a region: For example, the average annual savings in lives due to a flood defense or earthquake early warning system
    • For a location: For example, choosing which building has the biggest reduction in risk if retrofitted
  • Quantify the impact of climate change and how these risks are expected to vary over time

In the long term, probabilistic catastrophe modeling will be an important way to ensure improved measurement and, therefore, management of disaster risk, particularly in countries and regions at greatest risk.

The immediate focus should be on educating government bodies and NGOs on the valuable use of probabilistic methods. For the 15 year frameworks which are being renewed this year, serious consideration should be given on how to implement a useful and practical probabilistic method of measuring progress in disaster risk reduction, for example by using hazard maps. See here for further recommendations: http://www.preventionweb.net/english/professional/publications/v.php?id=39649 

2015 is an important year for measuring disaster risk: let’s get involved.

RMS and 100 Resilient Cities at the Clinton Global Initiative

I’ve just returned from the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting in New York. Every September, political, corporate, and non-profit leaders from around the world gather to discuss pressing challenges, form partnerships, and make commitments to action. It was inspiring to see the tremendous work already being done and the new commitments being made to address a diverse and wide range of issues, from containing the Ebola epidemic, to increasing access to education, to combatting climate change, and helping Haiti develop a self-sustaining economy.

One prevailing theme at the event this year was the importance of cross-sector partnerships to successfully tackle such complex issues. Not surprisingly, data crunched by the CGI team on commitments made over the past 10 years demonstrates the highest rate of success from partnerships vs. go-it-alone approaches.

In this spirit, we announced an RMS commitment last week to partner with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative to help increase the resilience of cities around the world. We will be making our RMS(one) platform and our catastrophe models available to cities in the 100RC network so that they can better understand their exposures, assess risk to catastrophic events as well as climate change, and prioritize investments in mitigating and managing that risk.

As the saying goes, “if you can measure it, you can manage it.” From our 25 years of experience helping the insurance industry better measure and then manage catastrophe risk, we believe there is a largely untapped opportunity for the public sector to similarly leverage exposure management and catastrophe modeling technology to establish more informed policies for managing risk and increasing resilience in cities throughout the world, both in developed and emerging economies.

It was also clear this week that the conversation in corporate boardrooms is increasingly moving from being focused solely on the financial bottom line to also having a positive impact on the world in a way that is strategically aligned with the core mission of the business.

Our partnership with 100RC, along with the partnerships with the UNISDR and the World Bank that we announced this summer, is another step in our own version of this journey. Through both our direct philanthropic support of Build Change and their admirable work to improve construction practices in developing countries and through the leveraging of our technology and the expertise of our colleagues to help the public sector, we are aligning all of our activities in support of our core mission to increase the resilience of our society.

Many of our clients have shared with us that they are on similar journeys, building on traditional support for local organizations to implement more strategic programs with broader impact and employee engagement. In particular, the insurance industry is uniquely positioned to understand the value of proactively investing in mitigation and in increasing resilience, instead of waiting until a tragedy has occurred and all that can be done is to support humanitarian response efforts.

With this common frame of reference, we look forward to increasingly partnering with our clients in the coming years not just to help them manage their own risk but to collectively help increase resilience around the world.

Human Resilience and Longevity

I spoke at Exceedance 2014 about how the traditional view of longevity focuses only on what makes us frail and what is wrong with us. My view is that longevity is equally influenced by how resilient we are: the intellectual, psychological, and social traits that make us resilient—what is right with us.

“Strength and resilience of the human spirit” is more than just an inspiring idea. Our human resilience is rooted in science.

It Pays to Stay Positive

Positive psychology is the study of human flourishing. It focuses on personal traits such as well-being and happiness rather than on problems. Since Martin Seligman pioneered the concept of positive psychology just 16 years ago, researchers have demonstrated that positive characteristics or feelings and purpose in life help people live longer. Positive feelings are especially beneficial for longevity, and it is hardly surprising that will-to-live is a strong predictor of survival among older people.

Healthy Mind, Healthy Body

In addition to a positive attitude, preservation of cognitive functioning is critical to successful aging. The rapid loss of cognitive faculties often signifies medical decline and heightened mortality risk.

Many cognitively demanding activities influence longevity, and active mental stimulation is important for maintaining cognitive functioning. We’ve all heard stories about spouses dying within months of each other; many studies have demonstrated the destructive consequences of social isolation and the high value of a regular schedule of social engagement for sustaining brain health. The mortality of any older individual is contingent to some extent on the survival of at least one peer.

Understanding Longevity

In fact, one of the most remarkable stories about the cognitive, psychological, and social traits of resilience are personified by a single remarkable individual with an enduring will to live: the longest-living Holocaust survivor, Alice Herz-Sommer, who lived to the age of 110 and was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary.

After surviving the Holocaust, Herz-Sommer continued to suffer numerous setbacks, including cancer at the age of 83. However, she was resilient enough to rebound. Motivated by her love of music and life, and supported by her friends, she was buoyed up by irrepressible optimism. That optimism, she believed, was the secret of her great longevity.

Stories like this show us that human longevity is not just about pathology and frailty. Longevity is also about advancing purposefully through life.

Although we tend to focus on building societal resilience through a deep understanding of risks and uncertainties, when it comes to longevity, we need to focus less on the risks, and more on the positive psychological and social factors that promote purposeful human advancement through life. To better understand longevity and its impacts on society as a whole, we must recognize human resilience.