Category Archives: Disaster Risk Reduction

Wildfire: Managing a Peak Peril

A new wildfire season looms on the horizon across the United States, and as the last two years of huge wildfire insured losses and extensive devastation to lives and property clearly illustrates, wildfire is no longer an easily manageable loss for the (re)insurance industry – but a new peak peril.

So, what could be in store for the 2019 season? The industry is reeling from back-to-back seasons with losses over US$10 billion. This is unprecedented even during a period when average losses between 2011-2018 were at US$3.7 billion. And looking back, this is up 40x compared to 1964-1990, where losses were below US$100 million in today’s prices. What is changing with this peril, what are the risk drivers that we need to look out for?

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Disaster Risk Reduction: Avoiding the Inevitable

While natural hazards are inevitable, their impact on any given community is not. This is the thrust of the #NoNaturalDisasters campaign.

There’s a truth behind the hashtag. Modern societies are increasingly capable of determining their resilience to natural hazards. We nowadays know enough to prevent extreme weather events from escalating into full-blown disasters. In developed nations, sophisticated forecasting systems, social media networks and engineering capabilities can make any weather-related death seem like pure bad luck.

So, if it’s all down to chance, no particular group in society should be at higher risk. The truth, however, is rather different.

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Data Drives Dividends

In the four years since the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the range of stakeholders taking part in the UN’s biennial Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction has broadened significantly. And with good reason.

Reducing disaster risk is a shared responsibility. The resilience gap is too large, too multifaceted and too complex to be closed by one stakeholder group alone.

Coupled with an acknowledgement of the need to shift focus from managing disasters to managing disaster risk, a multidisciplinary approach, leveraging private and public sector expertise, has rightly become central to the narrative.

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The Age of Innocence

Professor Ilan Noy holds a unique ”Chair in the Economics of Disasters” at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. He has proposed in a couple of research papers that instead of counting disaster deaths and economic costs, we should report the “expected life-years” lost, not only for human casualties but also for the life-years of work that will be required to repair all the damage to buildings and infrastructure.

The idea is based on the World Health Organization’s Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost through disease and injury (WHO 2013). The motivation is to escape from the distortion introduced by measuring the impact of global disasters in dollars, as loss from the richest countries will always dominate this metric. Noy’s proposal converts injuries into life-years lost, based on how long it takes for the injured to return to complete health, while also factoring the degree of permanent disability multiplied by its duration. This is topped up by a “welfare reduction weight” for all those exposed to a disaster. The final component of the index attempts to capture how many years of human endeavor is lost to recovering the buildings and assets destroyed in the disaster.

There is plenty to argue over in terms of how deaths, injury and damage should be combined. In particular, the assumption that additional work to rebuild a city, is the same as a shortened life, seems somewhat reductive.

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Impact Trek 2019: Destination Philippines

Many of us in the catastrophe risk management industry actively help communities in need after natural disasters – through donations, working with organizations to promote resilience, or through on-the-ground assistance. Our intimate understanding of the power of these catastrophes makes us acutely aware of the need to act.

RMS and Build Change

Every year, a team of RMS employees and clients work together to help support our longstanding partner, Build Change, on how to ensure vulnerable communities benefit from safer housing, retrofitting and sound construction methods. The skills that both our employees and clients bring are very complementary to these tasks, and knowledge of risk modeling and analytics, and how to use this knowledge to develop resilience is highly valued.

Following successful visits to Haiti and Nepal in recent years, this year’s RMS Impact Trek visits the Philippines for the first time, with the team (including myself) on the ground in the country from March 17–25.

Build Change have been active in the Philippines since 2013. They have worked on a range of long-term projects from helping to rebuild schools, pre-disaster retrofitting of homes in poorer areas of Manila, through to training technicians in disaster-resistant construction skills in Guiuan in southeast Samar.

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Exposure Trending

A postcard from Manila…

Situation: rapid, uncontrolled urbanization and limited enforcement of building codes.

Complication: unwieldy administrative procedures, limited funding, a lack of technical expertise and #NIMTOO.

Result: an alarming rise of building vulnerability in hazard-prone communities putting millions of low-income people at extreme risk.

While many local government officials recognize this problem, progress is painfully slow. Housing vulnerability continues to rise. What to do?

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Meet the RMS Impact Trekkers

In our previous blog, we introduced the RMS clients who will be joining this year’s RMS Impact Trek, heading off to the Philippines on March 17 to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change. Now it’s time to meet some of the RMS employees who they will work together with on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal.

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Meet the Trekkers

This year’s RMS Impact Trek, to help support the work of our longstanding partner, Build Change, heads off to the Philippines on March 17. A team of RMS employees and RMS clients will work together on a 10-day trek with Build Change to learn more about how to ensure communities benefit from safe housing, through the use of retrofitting and sound construction methods. The skills that both our employees and clients bring are very complementary to these tasks, and knowledge of risk modeling and analytics, and how to apply this knowledge to develop resilience is highly valued. For more insight, watch the video below from the 2018 Impact Trek in Nepal.

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International Women’s Day: A Call to Action

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). It’s a day to celebrate the achievements of women and to highlight the ongoing struggle in achieving equal rights for women across the globe.

The theme of the United Nations’ observance of #IWD2019 is particularly resonant at RMS: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change.” Given the discriminatory impact from catastrophes, where the vulnerable in society suffer the most, this theme is especially relevant to our mission to increase resilience to disasters.

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Climate Change and NCA4 Part Two: Attribution and Future Climate Change

For the first part of Pete Dailey’s blog, Climate Change and NCA4: Part One, click here

 

What’s Climate Change Attribution?

Lately, the climate science community has spent considerable time on a topic called attribution. In this context, attribution refers to the portion of rising temperatures attributable to human activity via the burning of fossil fuels and release of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Today’s climate models can reconstruct historical temperature records, and then replay history “as if” GHGs had not been released. The difference between these simulated climates provides a means of quantifying the warming that stems directly from the emissions.

Extreme event attribution attempts to quantify the responsibility of climate change for a single weather event. It works by establishing whether climate change can be credited as a factor among all of the factors responsible for a catastrophic event, such as Hurricane Katrina, or the recent Camp Fire wildfire in Northern California – or for that matter any natural disaster. Such events have lots of environmental ingredients and extreme event attribution decides whether human-induced global warming is a significant one.

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