Disaster Management is Planet Management

A new report from Gunnar J. Kuepper, chief of operations for Emergency & Disaster Management Inc., indicates that poor planet management will put the earth and its population on a collision course with increasing numbers of natural and man-made disasters.

Emergency & Disaster Management Inc. is an independent firm that advises private, non-profit and governmental institutions throughout the world in emergency management programs and conducts comprehensive vulnerability studies.

"Disaster Management 2008 – Facts, Challenges and Forecast" describes the challenges for creating safe, sound and secure communities in 2008. The report examines the world population, economy, global health, climate change and global warming, water crises, overpopulation, education and employment, science and technology and the cost of disasters and the negative impact some of the larger issues related to the health of the planet contribute to natural or manmade disasters.

Discussing U.S. emergency management policies, Kuepper says he is “not extraordinarily impressed by 200-pages of emergency management policies and procedures that describe the process of how and when the owner of a flooded tennis court is reimbursed and to what extent. This is neither a service to our communities, nor to global health and welfare nor in any way related to the monumental task of emergency management.”

According to Munich Re, one of the world's largest re-insurance companies, 950 natural disasters were recorded in 2007, which is up from 850 in 2006, and the highest figure since the company started keeping systematic records in 1974. The damage caused by natural disasters in 2007, mainly earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding and wild fires amounted to US $75 billion (EUR 52 billion).

One of the costliest events was Storm Kyrill that affected large parts of Northern and Western Europe in January of 2007. Kyrill was unusual in that its field of hurricane-force winds was very broad, resulting in insured losses of about US $5.8 billion (EUR 4 billion) and total economic losses of some US $10 billion (EUR 6.9 billion). Germany alone accounted for half of these losses.

Two flooding events in June and July in Great Britain each led to insured losses of about US $3 billion (EUR 2.1 billion) and total economic losses of US $4 billion (EUR 2.8).

A mid-April winter storm in the United States resulted in losses of US $1.57 billion (EUR 1.1 billion), and the October wildfires in California amounted to insured losses of at least US $1.9 billion (EUR 1.3 billion).

The deadliest natural disasters in 2007 included the South Asia flooding from July to September, which claimed around 3,000 lives, as well as November's tropical cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, which accounted for the loss of 3,300 people.

Due to climate change and global warming, says Kuepper, an increase in the severity of weather-related disasters (from flooding to drought) has to be expected. In addition, the vulnerability of countless communities towards natural and manmade disasters is rising significantly all over the globe. More and more people with more goods and wealth are settling in ever more perilous locations.

As a prime example, Kuepper cites some of the largest global metropolitan areas and economic powerhouses, which are located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area that is prone to severe earthquakes and volcanic activity. This includes the greater areas of the Tokyo Bay with a population of nearly 40 million, Los Angeles with a population of nearly 20 million or the San Francisco Bay with a population of more than 7 million.

“Similar trends continue not only along the hurricane-prone coastal regions of the Southeastern United States, but in most urban centers around the world,” says Kuepper in the report. “Even without an increase in frequency or magnitude in weather events, geological occurrences or manmade calamities, the growing number of people and assets in exposed areas increases the susceptibility to damages or injury.”

The threat of a global pandemic by an emerging virus still is as relevant as it was at the beginning of mankind, according to the report. “The most recent SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003, with 8,096 known infected cases and 774 deaths (a mortality rate of 9.6 percent) worldwide, is proof that a contagious virus can still create havoc on a global scale,” states Kuepper.

The current spread of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus in birds is considered a significant pandemic threat. The avian H5N1 virus can't be transmitted from human-to-human, but an infection cannot be treated and is mostly lethal. Of the 340 people infected as of Dec 2007, 209 have died, leading to a mortality rate of 65 percent.

According to Kuepper, “The growing competition among states over depleting resources, from water to hydrocarbons, and increased fanaticism over issues such as ethnicity, culture, race and religion, boost the potential for international conflicts.”

The report notes that with global access to information and weapons, more factions evolve to settle territorial disputes or historical/religious/cultural claims, by means of violence, terrorism and war. Armed conflicts between the uniformed forces of independent states currently are on the decrease. At the same time, stateless, multinational groups that are detracted from the sustenance and welfare of local populations, increase their efforts to destabilize governments and societies through violent activities.

“Once any system starts to deteriorate, it may reach a certain tipping point beyond which a catastrophic break-up may not only become explosively rapid but also irreversible,” says Kuepper.

For the entire report "Disaster Management 2008 – Facts, Challenges and Forecast" or for more information, contact Gunnar J Kuepper at [email protected]

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