More than just a buzzword
Resilience is one of the most talked-about topics today in the field of disaster prevention and management. It is a key component of sustainable development, as formulated by the UN in 2015 in its Sustainable Development Goals, and looks set to become as ubiquitous as the word sustainability – the most popular term of the last few years. Essentially, the objective of resilience is to put societies in a position where they can cope with loss events as efficiently as possible.
In this context, it is important not to disregard the other components of natural disaster management, which also help to strengthen resilience. The first of these is the mitigation of natural hazards, in other words influencing their frequency and/or intensity. Unfortunately, there are in fact very few options that can be called upon at short notice to do this. Attempts are being made in some regions to combat extreme hail events by seeding thunderstorm clouds from an aeroplane with condensation nuclei (silver iodide). However, there is no scientific evidence to suggest this actually reduces hail intensity. Other forms of "geo-engineering", such as methods of influencing tropical storms, have so far proved to be nothing more than visionary ideas and are not really considered feasible. In terms of weather-related natural hazards therefore, climate protection will remain the most effective instrument to avoid accumulations of unmanageable events for the next few decades.
Risk reduction can also be achieved through managing exposure. This includes cutting back on development in high-hazard regions such as coastlines or areas that are prone to flooding. This harbours enormous potential, but it is a potential that is often neglected in the pursuit of short-term gains, or because poorer people simply have no other places to live.
A further component is reducing vulnerability. For example, the loss susceptibility of buildings can be reduced by enforcing stricter standards for more loss-resistant construction methods or by using more suitable building materials, while protection measures like dykes can help to reduce the risk for entire areas.
After that come measures for acute catastrophe management, such as early-warning systems, evacuations and emergency aid.
All these measures help to reduce material losses and human suffering. If a society is affected less by an extreme event, it can get back on its feet faster and is therefore more resilient per se.
Another feature of resilient societies is that they are in a position to quickly repair damaged infrastructure and begin reconstruction. Insurance plays a key role in this context, since it contributes to prompt and reliable financing of recovery measures. This applies in particular for emerging and developing countries.
Several economic studies in the last few years have shown that high insurance penetration assists a country’s economy after a major natural disaster. The more losses are insured, the less of a decline there will be in economic output following a natural disaster, and therefore the faster the country can recover. In countries with very high insurance penetration, there can even be a positive effect on economic output.
At any rate, there are a number of reliable indications that insurance generates positive effects irrespective of a society's level of prosperity. This means that, given two countries with identical per-capita income, the country with higher insurance cover will be better able to withstand natural disasters. In other words, the higher the insurance penetration, the more resilient the societies in question will be.