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Disaster Preparedness & Relief: Three Things to Know

Speaker: Stewart M. Patrick, Director, International Institutions and Global Governance, Council on Foreign Relations
November 14, 2013

It will take months to fully understand the human and economic losses brought about by Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines on November 8. But at its most basic level, this occurrence underscores the importance of disaster preparedness and has spurred an important conversation about what can and cannot be done in the wake of natural disaster. CFR Senior Fellow Stewart Patrick outlines three things to know about disaster preparedness and relief.

A Growing Threat: Climate change, population growth, and urbanization have contributed to the rising threat of natural disasters, Patrick says. Extreme weather like severe droughts and large hurricanes "are becoming commonplace," he says. And these extreme weather events do not discriminate: "Rich countries are not immune to such calamities, as Hurricane Katrina showed," Patrick says. But developing countries are at an increased risk for higher damage from extreme weather due to a lack of modern infrastructure.

Decreased Funding, Increased Risk: On a global level, the United Nations does not have the funds to fully coordinate international responses to disasters. Regional-level institutions are not consistent across the board and "vary enormously" in their ability to react, Patrick says. Therefore, "it's often left to the United States to fill the vacuum," he says, but constantly relying on the military "is not always appropriate."

An Ounce of Prevention: "Too much global energy goes into disaster response rather than building resilience," Patrick says. By focusing on critical infrastructure and vulnerability assessment, risk can be minimized. "But to be successful, a commitment to emergency preparedness must permeate the entire society," he cautions.

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