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Chapter 2: Measuring Disasters’ Many Effects

It is important to understand the limits of damage assessments when using them. Much of the discussion here applies to disasters that cause destruction on a scale relatively small compared to the rest of the economy, with the economy expected to recover (ultimately) to its former state. But attempts to measure and value damage for such tragedies as the January 2010 Haiti earthquake—where the scale of destruction is such that it rewrites the future landscape—may be misplaced. If a disaster fundamentally altered a whole economy, neither flow nor stock estimates before the crisis would reflect the new long-term equilibrium after it. In such cases, estimating the value of damage matters less than identifying the prevention measures. Measures to move from the depths of the disaster to a new and different post-disaster resilient state will depend on what that state is envisaged to be. On preventing future disasters, later chapters explain why no single or simple measure exists: effective prevention requires cooperative measures. And the underlying cause of a disaster (and thus the effective prevention measure) is less obvious than its proximate cause. The assessment following the 2009 cyclone in the Lao Democratic People’s Republic found that people were not adequately warned of the impending flood, although such predictions were possible from upstream flows and rainfall measured over the previous several days. Better weather and hazard forecasting (chapter 4) would clearly have helped, but would dams upstream have been more cost-effective? Such searching questions are difficult for a damage assessment to answer.

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Profile for World Bank Group Publications

Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention  

Earthquakes, droughts, floods, and storms are natural hazards, but unnatural disasters are the deaths and damages that result from human act...

Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention  

Earthquakes, droughts, floods, and storms are natural hazards, but unnatural disasters are the deaths and damages that result from human act...