Despite spectacular economic progress in Asia since the 1960s, the region remains vulnerable to the threat of hazards turning into disasters. Continued exposure to a wide range of disaster risks, both natural and technological and man-made, can undermine the region’s success in economic development and poverty reduction over the past 50 years . The global health and economic costs of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic are testament to the severe impact of these threats and what can be destabilizing if not catastrophic characteristics of disasters. As of December 31, 2020, COVID-19 has affected more than 80 million people worldwide, caused an estimated 1.8 million deaths and set back global economic output by at least 2.5 years.
The widespread global effects of the pandemic show that disasters can destroy livelihoods and businesses, displace workers and kill thousands of people. The impact is generally worse for developing economies and for the most disadvantaged segments of society. Therefore, there has been a growing awareness and acceptance in the region that understanding and managing disaster risk is imperative to protect and support Asia’s long-term development. And mitigating these risks requires a thorough appreciation of the underlying context and the relationships between the economy, society, and the environment in which they occur.
Natural hazards become disasters when they are combined with the vulnerability and exposure of populations, thus harming human lives, activities and property. Vulnerability and exposure depend on various factors, such as poverty and inequality, urbanization, condition of infrastructure, access to insurance, credit and other markets, and use unsustainable resources and ecosystems. Additionally, climate change increases disaster risk as it changes the frequency, intensity, scope and timing of severe weather events.
This special supplement focuses on disasters triggered by natural hazards. It is divided into two parts. The first is devoted to a discussion of disasters in general. It begins with a description of the general upward trend in disaster risk in developing countries in Asia since the 1960s, before dissecting the high human cost of disasters. It then discusses disaster risk factors, followed by a review of the region’s risk management and disaster resilience efforts over the past decades.
Part two examines how the region is dealing with the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It starts with the evolution and current state of the pandemic around the world. It then examines its economic impact through 2021. It also describes the policy responses of governments and the Asian Development Bank (AfDB). The special supplement concludes with policy lessons on disaster resilience that developing Asian economies can learn from each other’s individual and collective experiences. Regional economies can use these lessons to accelerate recovery and hopefully rebuild greener after one of the worst global health crises in recent history and prepare them for future disaster risks.