Adapting to natural disaster risk: the case of Brazil's flood
How can we minimize the impacts of natural disasters?
More than 600 people have died in mudslides that ripped through hillside communities near Brazil's Rio de Janeiro. Why did this happen? Can "political economy" teach us anything about how to reduce such loss when future disasters occur?Skip to next paragraph
Mathew is an economics professor at UCLA and has written three books: Green Cities (Brookings Institution Press); Heroes and Cowards (Princeton University Press, jointly with Dora L. Costa); and in fall 2010, Climatopolis: How Our Cities Will Thrive in the Hotter World (Basic Books).
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"The hardest hit towns — Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo — have been scenes of widespread devastation since last week. ... Communications, electricity and potable water were still lacking in several areas, leaving disaster experts to lament Brazil’s lack of preparedness for deadly rains, which they say are becoming more common." NY Times Source
So, the experts know that the events are taking place more often but the towns were not ready to respond. Why?
"For much of its history, Brazil has been blessed like almost no other country of its size to be almost free of such calamities. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, erupting volcanoes — none have proved threats to Brazil. Until recently, the most costly and best-known disasters were severe droughts, said Margareta Wahlstrom, the assistant secretary general for the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
“But in the last few years the increasing frequency of floods, high winds and storms has become part of the new normal of Brazil,” she said. “The political choice we have today is to not treat disasters as events that come and go, but decide that you plan for them and realize that they are very costly.”"
So, a Bayesian would say that people will need to update their probability assessments and realize that they do face new increased risks from natural disaster.
The New York Times contrasts the recent Australian floods with the Brazilian floods. Many fewer people died in the Australian Floods. Why?
"The hillside areas around Rio lacked early warning systems or effective community organizations that might have helped residents to wake one another as the rains intensified last Tuesday night, disaster experts and residents said. Most people are believed to have died early Wednesday morning as they slept, when water-loosened earth swept their houses away."
The article continues:
"Australia had not experienced severe floods since the early 1970s, Ms. Wahlstrom said, but annual cyclones and minor floods led officials to develop early-warning systems and evacuation guides that residents were regularly drilled on. Better drainage infrastructure and better quality housing also helped, she said."