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Logistics not enough for "Megadisasters"

TOKYO: The World Bank and government of Japan have published an extensive report on the lessons to be learned from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake that took the lives of over 20,000 people and cost the country US$210 billion.

Over the past three decades natural disasters have caused close to US$4 trillion in economic losses worldwide, much of that in the developing world. The report, Learning from Megadisasters,  concludes the combination of urbanisation and global warming means Typhoon Haiyan, that struck the Philippines in November last year, can no longer be viewed as a once-in-a-century event, but as a future probability.

philippinesWith more than 75 percent of global fatalities from natural disasters occurring in developing countries, the report authors say climate change and mass urbanization will continue to have a major effect on the developing world's long-term prosperity and safety.

Despite nearly 2,000 years of disaster-response planning, Japan was unprepared for a disaster that included an earthquake, a tsunami, a nuclear power plant accident, a power supply failure and large-scale disruption of supply chains—with global consequences for several industries.

In the second quarter of 2011, the country's gross domestic product fell 2.1 percent from the previous year, while industrial production and exports dropped 7.0 percent and 8.0 percent respectively. Japan experienced a trade deficit for the first time in 31 years. In the wake of the tsunami, businesses around the world that relied on Japanese electronics and automotive parts had to find alternate manufacturing supply chains following disruptions and delays in production, distribution, and transportation.

According to Sanjay Pradhan, vice president of Change, Knowledge and Learning at the World Bank Group, the world must shift from a tradition of disaster response to a culture of prevention and resilience. He says this is the lesson Japan has learned: disaster risk management must be an integral part of a country's policies, strategies, regulation and building codes prior to an event.

In a four degrees Celsius world, Pradhan says governments can expect more "megadisasters" and despite sophisticated logistics response from both home -grown and imported first responders, preparing for the future cause, not the subsequent effect, will be key to survival.

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