The Philippines, Guatemala, Bangladesh and two Pacific islands have topped a 173-nation ranking of disaster risks and how societies cope. Climate change is a growing risk, say the authors of a collaborative report.
The World Risk Report published in Bonn on Wednesday by United Nations scientists, five German development organizations and the US-based Nature Conservancy lists the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar and the EU island nation of Malta as the safest places to live.
Coastal areas were highlighted as most at risk
Two remote, low-lying Pacific islands, Vanuatu and Tonga, rank first and second as worst placed on the World Risk Index as they did last year, based on a matrix of four criteria.
These measure what dangers a nation faces, for example, through geology or weather, the probability it will suffer damaging events, the nation's capacity or incapacity to cope, and what resources, if any, it has to adapt after being hit.
In terms of risk exposure, Bangladesh's plight worsened. It shifts from slot 15 last year to 10 this year, leaving it overall as the fifth worst-placed nation.
Philippines ranked third most at risk
The Philippines, a myriad of islands that sit astride a typhoon and tectonic belt and with a growing population of 104 million, ranks overall as the third most at risk. UN scientist Jörn Birkmann said the 15 most endangered nations lie in sprawling tropical and coastal waters.
The authors highlight climate change, saying that "in science it is widely accepted" although its extent is not fully clear.
Their report cites predicted sea level rises of between 90 and 120 centimeters by 2100, saying this will pose "grave problems" for nations of Oceania, Bangladesh and even The Netherlands.
"At the moment about 13 percent of the world's populations live along coastal reaches that lie less than 10 centimeters about the nominal sea-level," the report read.
Retain wetlands, reefs as buffers, authors say
One year on and Haiti is still scarred by its quake
The head of the alliance of German aid agencies, Peter Mucke, urged politicians world-wide to invest more in "green solutions" in catastrophe-prone areas, such as the retention of wetlands, mangrove swamps and coral reefs.
They were more resilient against flooding than "gray solutions" such as dikes and breakwaters, Mucke said.
Quake nations Haiti and New Zealand
To illustrate huge differences between potential dangers and societal vulnerability, the World Risk Report cites last year's earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which had similar high magnitudes.
Christchurch suffered 187 deaths and damage amounting to 12.4 billion euros ($16 billion), of which 80 percent was later covered by insurance.
Cleaning up after Christchurch's quake
In contrast, Haiti's quake claimed 220,000 lives and damage was valued at 6.2 billion euros ($8 billion). Of this, only a mere 2.5 percent was covered by insurance, leaving Haiti facing much worse economic losses.
On the index, Haiti ranks a risky 21. Despite its tectonics, New Zealand remains resilient in 122nd slot.
"One cannot avoid earthquakes, but the societal vulnerability can be reduced," the authors wrote, adding that the index enables decision makers to prepare resources for those moments when disaster strikes.
Experience had shown, they said, that strong social coherence and the tackling of poverty made communities more resilient if hit.
ipj/jr (kna, dpa, epd, dapd)