Major disasters over the past two years could have been avoided or their impacts reduced if societies had taken into account their shared root causes when designing solutions, according to a new analysis by the UN.

Despite progress in preparation and response, new extremes and emerging threats are continually catching societies out, noted the report by the UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security.

Researchers analysed ten disasters from around the world to identify root causes and drivers. They found that societies can reduce disaster risks by identifying interconnections between them. Solutions can then be developed that take advantage of these connections.

The events were selected because they are representative of larger global issues: the heatwave in British Columbia; the Haiti earthquake; Hurricane Ida in the US; the Lagos floods; the Mediterranean wildfires; food insecurity in southern Madagascar; the drought in Taiwan; the Tonga volcano eruption; the looming extinction of the vaquita; and the unusual migration of elephants in Yunnan.

Last year, global disasters caused a total loss of around 10,000 human lives and more than US$280 billion in damages. If solutions do not receive investment and are not scaled up, the disasters of last year and this are “the beginning of a new normal”, the report authors warned.

However, they stressed that just as disasters are interconnected, so are their solutions. “One type of solution can prevent or reduce a number of different disaster risks,” said Dr Jack O’Connor, senior scientist at the Institute of Environment and Human Security, and lead author of the report. “Through our research, we were able to identify solutions which can prevent or drastically reduce the impacts of disasters to help us save lives and avoid costly damage.”

The researchers identified eight broad categories of solutions that are most effective for disaster risk reduction: co-existence with natural processes; innovation; enhancing collaboration; securing livelihoods; modifying consumption patterns; strengthening governance; planning for risks when designing and building infrastructure; and enhancing capacities to predict and communicate risks through early warning systems.

Co-existing with nature was ranked top, identified as part of the solution to eight of the disasters, including landslides caused by the Haiti earthquake, the formation of sandstorms in southern Madagascar, and the sedimentation of water reservoirs that contributed to the drought in Taiwan. Restoring forests, for example, prevents land degradation and stabilises soil as the trees and roots protect it from being washed or blown away.

Read the full article about natural disasters and solutions by Catherine Early at Eco-Business.