“The World Risk Index 2011: Are disasters preventable?” – Three questions to PD Dr Jörn Birkmann

RiskIn Brussels, on 2 September, the UN University Institute for Environment and Human Security, based in Bonn, launched its new report “The World Risk Index 2011: Are disasters preventable?”

Three questions to PD Dr Jörn Birkmann, Scientific Head of the WorldRiskIndex project at UN University in Bonn.

Why did the United Nations University develop the WorldRiskIndex?

Extreme natural events do not necessarily cause disasters, because risk not only depends on the hazard, but is very much determined by social and economic factors. The Index, which was developed by UN University in Bonn, gives a global overview of disaster risk in a world map. The map/index shows right away where the risk of societies to natural hazard is particularly high. It also shows the vulnerability of societies as well as their response capacities. This is an innovative approach that goes beyond existing hazard maps.

Why is the WorldRiskIndex important?

For the first time, the social, economic and environmental dimension of vulnerability together with the classical hazard analysis was mapped worldwide. The developed four-component grid enclosing exposure, the susceptibility, coping and adaption capacities is a concept which is unique in its kind. This leads to a new approach to risk assessment, which allows future oriented conclusions for policies and practice. Especially the latter – humanitarian aid organizations with whom this report was edited- are stressing the need to focus in the future more on disaster risk reduction than just on disaster humanitarian aid after an extreme event. The comprehensive analyses allow to better detect threats and to identify the needs more precisely.

Why do we need this WorldRiskReport?

One must clearly prepare today for the environmental changes of the coming years and decades. Not only the gradual temperature (climate change phenomena) plays a crucial role, but also the development of both extreme events and social vulnerability. Policymakers and development aid actors, inter alia, need instruments that show which regions and countries are particularly disaster-prone with regard to extreme events due to their exposure and vulnerability. Information on natural hazards alone is insufficient; rather, it is important to have an overall understanding of the situation concerning society´s conditions and its coping (short-term) and adaptive (long-term) capacities. As a consequence, the WRI quickly and clearly presents the exposure of various countries to extreme events, on the one hand, and social vulnerability, on the other hand, pointing out risk hotspots.

Report can be downloaded http://www.ehs.unu.edu/file/get/9018