The year 2022 reminded the world of the reality of compounding and cascading risks, especially in the Asia-Pacific that has emerged as the world’s most disaster-prone region. Floods were the deadliest, accounting for 74.4 per cent of disaster events in the region during the year and 88.4 per cent of total deaths globally, according to an assessment by the Bangkok-based UN-ESCAP.

These events provided insights on key drivers and brought forth a few action points, according to Sanjay Srivastava, Chief, Disaster Risk Reduction, UN-ESCAP. First, assessment of all dimensions of risk, including the dynamic and rapidly evolving Asia-Pacific risk-scape at 1.5 to 2.0 degree Celsius-warming scenarios and its implications for disease outbreaks for its cross-sectoral assessment and management. 

Major action points 

Similarly, there is a need to develop vulnerability and exposure databases for better anticipation and management of compounding and cascading risks, Srivastava wrote to businessline. An integrated multi-hazard early warning systems need to be configured and put in pace to capture these risks and capitalise on the ‘Early Warning for All by 2027’ initiative.

Three other action points are innovative risk reduction financing mechanisms; understanding and addressing the risks involved in critical infrastructure systems; and adopting an ecosystem-based approach to mitigate and manage risk, Srivastava pointed out. The upcoming Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2023 and the eighth session of the ESCAP intergovernmental Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction scheduled in July will deliver on these above action points. 

Compounding, cascading

In the meantime, the ESCAP Risk and Resilience Portal has been customised to address the challenges of managing complex, compounding and cascading risks. The major disasters of 2022 fell across the development spectrum from floods in Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Thailand; drought in China, Kiribati and Tuvalu; typhoons Megi and Nalgae in the Philippines; heatwaves in India, Japan and Pakistan; and earthquakes in Afghanistan, Fiji and Indonesia. 

Earthquakes in Afghanistan and Indonesia were mild with M5.9 and M5.6 magnitude, but the impact relatively severe. The fundamental reason was the critical vulnerability of community at risk and direct exposure of economic and social assets near the epicentres. In the case of compounding risk, simultaneous hazard events took place followed by their respective or combined impacts. 

Pakistan, Afghanistan

As Afghanistan was already simultaneously struggling with conflicts, pandemic and disasters, the June earthquake triggered a primary impact resulting in a substantially accumulated residual impact. This was multiplied when unseasonal rainfall and floods arrived. Disasters tend to compound and can easily become risk multipliers.

Cascading disasters are those where a chain of hazard events are followed by initial and residual impact. Glaciers melted in Pakistan from the record spring heat and this combined with an unprecedented monsoon rain to precipitate a historic flooding devastating large swathes of the country.