|Disaster Economics - 1st Edition (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - Disaster Management Training Programme - United Nations Development Programme , 1992, 52 p.)|
|Part 2 - Alternative disaster scenarios|
Michael Friedel, "Sustainable Development and the Environment," UNDP
In reviewing disasters which involve environmental challenges, it is worth considering a specific example, taken from the Maldives. This small island nation state consists of 19 atolls, made up of about 1,200 coral islands scattered over a wide expanse of the north central Indian Ocean. Most islands are small, with a diameter of less than 1.6 km. The islands are flat, and generally have an altitude of less than 2.5 meters. Approximately 55,000 people, (or 25% of the total population), live on Male, the capital. This large population has occurred because of a high national birth rate of about 3.5% per annum. There has also been inward migration to Male, because of (a) past failure to decentralize economic growth to the outer atolls, and (b) the concentration of resource allocation and decision-making in the capital. Population growth has generated a large demand for housing and public sector infrastructures which has been sited on newly reclaimed land.
Given the average altitude of the islands, Maldives faces the potential of rising tide levels, caused by global warming. An abnormally high tide occurred nationally between 10 and 15 April, 1987. Most of the damage occurred in Male, and included washing away sea walls and eroding approximately one third of newly reclaimed land. Private houses and the airport terminal were also damaged. The total national loss caused by this high tide was estimated at around US$ 10 million (1991 prices). The country suffered further high tide damage in June, 1988, and was affected by serious storm damage in May, 1991.
Under these circumstances, government has had to consider investing in mitigation, in order to prevent future catastrophic disasters. In 1987, the government of Maldives requested Japan to assist in identifying the damage that had been caused by that year's high tide.
On the basis of the Japanese recommendations, a breakwater was constructed in the south of Male. In 1992 it was proposed to reinforce this investment by constructing a sea wall at selected sites. This would require 3,000 cubic meters of mass concrete, armored with wave dissipating concrete blocks. The sea wall project was estimated to cost around US$ 28 million (1991 prices).
Construction of this wall would have to be closely coordinated with past and proposed projects, to ensure consistency and economies of scale. This is particularly true of the Male land reclamation project, launched in 1979 and completed in mid 1986. The project reclaimed 59.7 hectares of land in the shallow reef flat on the southern and western sides of Male and was used to provide land for homeless families, schools, a new hospital, a power plant, a harbor for inter-island shipping and fishing boats, a sports complex and other public facilities.
The total cost of the public sector investments that could be destroyed, if the mitigating sea wall is not built and the sea rises, is around US$ 70 million (1991 prices). In addition, there would be damage to private sector housing and enterprises.
Clearly, government must consider, and evaluate the trade-offs between a number of options, some of which are summarized below:
1. Should Male be the only island to be protected?
2. Should infrastructural and governmental (and thus population) decentralization be speeded up?
3. If decentralization takes place, will there be sufficient funds available to protect all the islands where new infrastructure is established?
4. Is it, in fact, better to increase the concentration of resources on Male, rather than decentralize, giving Male full protection at the same time?
5. If development is concentrated on Male, and given that the local water table on Male is falling fast, what water purification options does the capital have?
6. Is it better to pay for expensive mitigation investment, or take a chance that global warming will not occur?
7. If the mitigating investment could be grant-financed, should Maldives become grant dependent on a single country?
8. Do the advantages of surrounding Male with a sea wall outweigh locating the wall at selected sites?
9. Although there is no income or corporation tax in Maldives, should Male's population pay a specially introduced tax or insurance premium to contribute to the cost of the mitigating investment?
10. As tourism is now the main foreign exchange earner, (superseding tuna fishing and exporting), should funds be spent on protecting tourist islands against global warming, possibly financed by a tax on tourism?
11. Given that Maldives is increasingly experiencing illegal dumping of environmentally-damaging garbage, will a policy of compelling tourist islands to compact and bum their own waste lead to prohibitive holiday charges, forcing tourists to go to other destinations?
Q. Consider a disaster-prone country with which you are familiar. Identify a major asset that is vulnerable to disaster damage. Describe a mitigation investment which would reduce disaster related consequences. Estimate its cost and what it might save.