Disasters triggered by hazards, such as floods, earthquakes, droughts, and cyclones, pose significant impediments to sustainable development efforts in the most vulnerable and exposed countries. The annual average cost of disasters globally (the cost of direct damage to buildings and infrastructure due to riverine floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, and cyclones [1
]) is estimated at approximately US$
314 billion [1
], with the world’s most costly disasters in relative terms taking place in small and vulnerable low-income economies. Hurricane Maria, which devastated parts of the Caribbean region in September 2017, for example, cost Dominica US$
931 million in damages and US$
382 million in combined losses, together accounting for more than 200% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) [2
]. In Puerto Rico, the same hurricane caused US$
20 billion in damages and US$
10 billion in losses combined, which is equivalent to approximately 30% of the territory’s GDP [3
]. In these countries and territories, the development process and outcomes have direct bearing on disaster risk and vice versa. When household savings are used to rebuild destroyed houses, or when government budgets are diverted for public infrastructure rehabilitation, these constitute important opportunity costs for productive resources that could have been used to improve a country’s human development. As countries, regions, and communities strive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), taking proper account of disaster risk is becoming increasingly important, particularly for the most vulnerable countries whose finance options are limited.
In the field of disaster risk management, practitioners and academicians alike have long urged that consideration for disaster risk be integrated in development analysis and planning. Understanding risk is the first priority of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, where global efforts are ongoing to collect, assess, and monitor disaster risk information globally [4
]. With an anticipated rise of disaster risk, and especially in the context climate change, a number of multi-lateral institutions have also begun promoting various climate and disaster screening and monitoring procedures with as many as twelve UN agencies having included disaster risk reduction (DRR) into their monitoring frameworks [5
]. Recent years have also seen initiatives to make disaster risks explicit to private investors [7
Better tracking of disaster risk and development allows us to gauge whether a country’s development is disaster-risk sensitive; that is, a country achieves a development path that either does not generate additional disaster risk or reduces risk. A combined measure of disaster risk and development may be used to monitor this trend. Commonly used development indicators, such as human development indicators, and multi-dimensional poverty and inequality measures adjusted for catastrophic disaster risk, may be used for this purpose. However, this potential is yet to be explored. Using the human development index (HDI) as an example, we demonstrate how such an indicator (hereafter termed risk-adjusted human development index (RHDI)) may be constructed with another readily available global dataset, allowing one to jointly measure the evolution of disaster risk and development. In this commentary, we ask how incorporating disaster risk measured relative to a country’s capacity to cope affects its human development measured across the three dimensions of health, education, and standard of living. As spatially explicit disaster risk information is increasingly becoming globally available [1
], there is an opportunity to design combined measures of disaster and development.
2. Disaster Risk and Human Development
The empirical evidence of disaster and development indicate that three dimensions of human development are incorporated in the HDI (i.e., education, health, and income as proxy for standard of living), and are in turn affected by disaster risk and damages.
First, in the educational sector, school facilities, when safely constructed, for example, provide much-needed physical protection during emergencies [9
], and when poorly constructed, may lead to major casualties as seen in recent years during the Kashmir (Pakistan), Wenchuan (China), and Haiti earthquakes of 2005, 2008, and 2010, respectively [10
]. Disaster damages are known to affect educational attainment and other aspects of educational system operation. The occurrence of disasters may lead to temporary effects, such as school closures and student absenteeism [11
], or long-term effects, such as lower educational attainment [12
] and a higher school dropout rate, both in general, or affecting a specific gender more pronouncedly [13
General level of education is also an important determinant for one’s survival and longer-term wellbeing following disaster events [14
]. Education affects wellbeing outcomes through channels, such as its impact on access to information and resources, as well as social capital and earning potential [16
]. In addition, education is a primary means through which one obtains essential cognitive skills and scientific knowledge to inform one’s interpretation of surrounding environments, including risk perceptions and disaster preparedness knowledge [17
]. Over recent decades, various educational curriculums on natural hazards and preparedness have been widely adopted around the world, with more than 60% of countries reporting having such subjects in their national curriculum [20
Second, a better state of public health is also a factor that can reduce vulnerability to disaster risk. Access to health facilities and the availability of health experts are important factors affecting immediate disaster survival and longer-term recovery outcomes [22
]. Health systems may be disrupted by disasters through, for example, the physical destruction of facilities, or the disruption of critical infrastructure services and medical supply chains. Lacking access to adequate and secure public health provisions, such as clean water and sanitation, immediate impacts of disasters pose significant risks to the health of the population [23
]. Displacement of population and disruption of services, such as potable water and waste treatment facilities, could lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases. Commonly observed health impacts of disasters include enteric diseases, respiratory illnesses, mental health issues, and vector borne diseases such as malaria [24
]. Higher levels of vaccination, the safe disposal of dead bodies, better nutrition, and good hygiene practices can reduce the risk of such follow-on impacts.
One of the most notable recent examples illustrating the importance of critical infrastructure access to survivors’ health during emergency is Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Kishore et al. [27
], for example, estimated that on average households suffered critical infrastructure disruption of “84 days without electricity, 68 days without water, and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage after the hurricane and until 31 December 2017 (pp. 165–166).” A total of 14.4%, 9.5%, and 8.6% of the population also reported the lack of access to medication, respiratory equipment in need of electricity, and closer medical facilities, respectively. After series of investigations suggesting the bleak possibility of a large increase in death counts triggered by factors, such as the lack of access to these medical services and generally due to the deteriorating living conditions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria [28
], official death counts were revised from the original figure of 64 to 2975 almost one year following the hurricane [30
Third, the destruction of physical assets and livelihood means, as well as consumption made unwillingly during the preparedness response, recovery, and reconstruction phrases, all contribute to loss in income (and hence in standard of living) for the affected population. Income has been found to affect risk through a variety of channels, such as the location and building materials of residences, adoption of preparedness activities, and adherence to early warnings [31
]. In turn, disasters affect income both directly, through the destruction of assets, and indirectly, through differential coping behaviors and access to informal and formal safety-net mechanisms [35
]. Factors, such as the availability of savings, access to credit and external assistance, initial levels of asset endowment, and other prevailing socioeconomic conditions, also affect the extent of disaster impacts. In general, studies suggest that poorer households and firms are not only more exposed to natural hazard risks, but their economic wellbeing is disproportionately affected in both the short- and long-term [33
]. At the same time, the rapid buildup of population and wealth within hazard-prone areas has also contributed to the recent growth in economic losses due to disasters globally, especially for hazards such as coastal and urban floods [38
Finally, it is important to note that relationships between disasters and the three dimensions of health, education, and income as a proxy for standard of living are highly interwoven in that loss of income due to disasters, for example, may contribute to students’ absenteeism and drop-out, while higher health burden, such as trauma and mental health issues brought about by disasters, may negatively affect ones’ earning potential. Reflecting all these complex and potentially non-linear dynamics of disaster risk and development linkages (such as a shock to critical infrastructure may have disproportionately large cascading socioeconomic impact) [39
] is certainly beyond the scope of our present analysis, in this study, we will instead use the measurement of risk to capital asset as a proxy and propose a method to adjust a development indicator using the human development index as an example.
The 131 countries analyzed face varying degrees of disaster risk due to floods, cyclones (wind and storm surges), earthquakes, tsunamis, and droughts. Combined global annual average losses are estimated at US$243 billion, with rapid onset events contributing to the vast majority of the estimated asset losses (>99%). According to the original HDI categories, low HDI countries on average face a disaster risk worth US$105 million, while medium HDI countries are on average looking at US$1.2billion, high HDI countries US$902 million, and high and very high HDI countries are facing US$4.4 billion. In terms of regional variability, small island states on average face US$120 million, Europe US$1 billion million, North and South Americas US$4.2 billion, Asia US$5.1 billion, Middle East and Northern Africa US$820 million, and Sub-Saharan Africa US$100 million.
The economic value of disaster damage is only a small fraction of the size of the national economy in most countries (Figure 1
). Small islands, such as Vanuatu and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, face the highest relative risk for cyclone wind and storm surges, while Honduras faces the highest relative earthquake risk in relative terms. Drought risk is generally lower than risk for other hazards, with Sub-Saharan countries, such as Malawi, Ghana, and Ethiopia, facing the highest relative risk. Due to the high economic value of exposed assets, countries such as Japan and the United States face risk of over US$
61.5 billion and US$
52.5 billion annually in all hazards combined, but these only account for approximately 1.3% and 0.3% of the country’s annual GDP. In our sample of 131 countries, 31 countries had a total AAL of more than 1% of GDP, while only 19 counties had total AAL of more than 2% of GDP.
The smaller relative value of risk nevertheless implies a significant cost of forgone public and private investment for the world’s most vulnerable countries. Assuming indicative costs to address poverty reduction, health, and educational attainment based on Manuel and Hoy [57
], for example, annual average loss of US$
105.3 million for low HDI countries is equivalent to extending social transfer, educational, and health services to more than half a million people annually, while US$
904.2 million for medium HDI countries is equivalent to serving 3.7 million people annually in these countries. It is also important to note that while direct risk may be small, follow-on consequences of disasters may be sizable if countries lack resilience in these sectors to maintain or swiftly recover their public services provision, as seen in recent disasters such as Hurricane Maria of 2017 in Puerto Rico [27
Reflecting these opportunity costs of disasters in the three dimensions of education, health, and income, a number of countries—particularly small and highly exposed countries—have significantly lower RHDI estimates. Figure 2
shows the estimated risk adjustment coefficients across different regions. Within region variabilities are high for small island countries where there are a number of countries with high-risk adjustment coefficients (e.g., Vanuatu with
of 0.43, and Belize with
of 0.26). Madagascar is also a notable outlier in the Middle East and African region with
of 0.34 (Not shown in Figure 2
). Risk adjustment coefficients for health are small for most countries due to limited exposure of health assets globally (Another probable cause is underestimation of risk in the health sector. While the past records of disasters available from the Desinventar database [58
] show the ratio between the number of damaged health facilities to educational facilities is on average 18.5%, the ratio of AAL of health to education facilities used in this study is on average 0.5%. While public expenditures of health and education per GDP on average are 4.2% and 4.7% respectively, the low health AAL estimates largely explained the low
estimated in this analysis), whereas risks to educational and other facilities are higher, particularly for low and medium HDI countries in small islands, Asia and Europe, Central Asia, and the North and South Americas. Globally, risk adjustments to the health dimension range below 0.003, adjustments to the educational dimension range below 0.1, and those to the standard of living dimension range below 0.90. The supplementary material
shows the estimated HDI and RHDI for all countries.
shows the comparisons of the original HDI, RHDI, female HDI (FHD), and IHDI for the top six countries overall in terms of RHDI adjustments made. Many of these countries face a combined challenge of disaster risk and inequity: RHDI and IHDI were 27% and 32% lower than the original HDI for Honduras, 38% and 27% lower for Madagascar, and 30% and 22% lower for Belize. Given that inequity is often an important underlying driver of disaster risk [59
], these are the countries in which challenges for DRR implementation will be high and where different types of policy interventions (or what the DRR community increasingly refers to as the “transformational approach”) that not only addresses physical exposure and vulnerability, but also fundamental social vulnerabilities, including marginalization of the poor, uneven power dynamics, and other institutional and structural factors [61
As shown in Figure 4
, countries that have high risk adjustments in general, receive relatively smaller external assistance in the form of total per capita aid flow, thus illustrating the need to integrate future disaster risk considerations in such global resource allocation. Honduras, for example, receives US$
21 per capita in aid, while Madagascar, The Philippines, and Belize receive US$
5.9, and US$
19 per capita, respectively. Fiji and Vanuatu are notable exceptions, in that they respectively receive US$
69 and US$
324 per person in total aid, which is much higher than the mean of 93 other countries (US$
34 per person) for which data on total aid flow in 2014 was available.