An important challenge of natural hazards is that they inflict the greatest total economic damage in large, developed countries, where wealth is aggregated, but they create the greatest economic impact in smaller and developing countries, where a disaster caused by a natural hazard can easily overwhelm a national government’s ability to respond and its economy to recover. Thus, a common understanding in the literature is that the fiscal effect of a natural hazard is a function of the size of the disaster relative to the size of a nation’s economy at the time of the disaster. At the international level, the economic impact of disasters, for example, has been estimated to be US$2.9 trillion between 1998 and 2017, and approximately $945 billion of that occurred in the United States. With a 2019 gross domestic product (GDP) of $21 trillion, the total economic effect for those 20 years is close to 5% of the value of economic output for a single year. Developing country losses, on the other hand, can be overwhelming, especially as measured against the size of the economy. For example, Hurricane Maria’s impact on Dominica is estimated to have been approximately US$1.37 billion, which was equivalent to 225% of Dominica’s GDP. While an appreciation for the connection between the size of a national economy and natural hazards is clearly critical, the literature points to a number of additional factors that are important to understand about how government financial conditions are affected by natural hazards and vice versa. Debates continue about the role of foreign direct investment, government and private debt levels, investments in education, and internationally sponsored protective actions and insurance pools in improving the resilience of smaller and developing countries to disasters. For example, structural approaches to understanding the linkage between disasters and economic development suggest that countries with a limited number of sources of income have economies that are more vulnerable to disasters than more diversified economies, which might suggest that fiscal policies designed to increase economic diversity are important. Neoclassical approaches, on the other hand, argue that economic recovery is slowed by government intervention in the economy, and suggest that the best way for developing economies to recovery quickly is to reduce the amount of regulation in the economy. Whatever the theoretical approach, what remains most clear is the ongoing challenge of decoupling the emotional need to participate in responses to the human tragedy associated with disasters caused by natural hazards from the strategic imperative to invest in hazard mitigation at much higher rates globally and plan toward disaster risk reduction.
Mohammed Alkhurayyif, Julie Winkler, Simon Andrew, and Skip Krueger
Traditional conceptions of disaster mitigation focus mainly on risk reduction practices using technology; however, disaster mitigation needs to be reconceptualized as a discursive and social intervention process in the disaster-development continuum to further women’s rights and equality and their emancipatory interests before, during, and after disasters. Such reconception would be more aligned with current formulations within the Sendai Framework of Action (2015–2030), which to an extent highlights the need to engage with gender inequalities through women’s leadership in disaster and development planning and the fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal on furthering gender equality. As discursive practices, disaster mitigation should question discrimination against and marginalization of women in disaster recoveries and development processes in different contexts. Discourse about women and gender is ingrained in the society and further perpetuated through regressive and patriarchal state policies and practices in the disaster-development continuum. A critical and progressive politics for women’s rights that furthers their equality would counter regressive discourses and their effects. Women experience discrimination through complex and multiple axes of power, such as race, class, ethnicity, and other social markers. Instead of treating women as a passive site for relief and recovery, nongovernmental organizations, both national and international, should work with women as persons with agency, voice, aspirations, and capacity to bring about policy and social change in the terrain of the disaster-development continuum. Critical humanitarianism and mobilizing women’s leadership would be a hallmark of such work. The relation between disaster mitigation and women’s rights is that of a virtuous cycle that calls for a synergy between disaster response and development goals to further women’s equality and rights. A vision for socially just and equal society must inform the relation between disaster mitigation and furthering women’s rights.