The good NEWS for coping with disasters

Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio
Chairman, Space Time Ventures
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Latin America

The developing world is vulnerable to disasters of every kind, from earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, cyclones to landslides, floods, droughts and crop failures. Rapid and chaotic urbanization exacerbates the effect of these hazards, with poor quality land-use policies and cramped populations ill-equipped to respond. It’s worth remembering that in Latin America, over 79% of the population lives in cities compared with a world average of 52%.

Frequently, due to lack of effective early warning systems, government and private sector/community actions are typically taken after a disaster has occurred. In the absence of a comprehensive multi-risk National Early Warning System (NEWS) capability, and the resulting inability to prevent and mitigate the loss of lives and damage, government authorities, the private sector and society at large are limited to attenuating its consequences and often with limited information to guide proper resource allocation to address these consequences.

The lack of state-of-the-art NEWS capabilities and capacity is prevalent in most developing nations. The exception is the single risk regional early warning system for tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean, and similar efforts elsewhere. Having a fully operational NEWS is key to increase countries’ resiliency to increasing weather extremes and climate change-related disasters.

In addition, the increasingly hyperconnected and interdependent nature of the global economy compounds the risks posed by extreme weather. One crisis can cause knock-on effects through a supply chain linking, say, industries and global commodity markets.

Our vision at the World Economic Forum Global Council on Measuring Sustainability is one of taking a “network of networks” approach similar to that which led to the formation of what is now known as the Internet – which, essentially, is an open informational global public good – and to design, make a prototype and scale the missing “Public Risk Internet” in the developing world as a global public good. This would be a breakthrough innovation.

The Council envisages that the “public risk Internet” will, for the first time, allow better understanding of the environmental-related risks (such as issues linked to water, food or energy), including natural disasters, that a given region is facing, and to better anticipate them. This new information infrastructure will also enable private risk management innovations across all sectors of the economy (just as the World Wide Web and Internet did and still does).

The Council’s urgent call to action is to develop and scale an openly available, public risk management platform. This can be tailored to the hazard/vulnerability profile of each developing country/region, working in coalition with relevant governments, national and international R&D institutions, international development organizations, multilateral banks, non-government organizations and the private sector.

Author: Juan Carlos Castilla-Rubio, Chief Executive Officer, Planetary Skin Institute; Chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Measuring Sustainability

With the collaboration of Carlos Nobre, National Secretary of R&D Programs, Brazil Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation; Member of the Global Agenda Council on Measuring Sustainability, and Megan Clark, Chief Executive Officer, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization; Member of the Global Agenda Council on Measuring Sustainability

Image: The Tungurahua volcano spews lava in Ecuador REUTERS/Carlos Campana

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