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close this bookIDNDR - Informs - Number 09-10, Special Edition, 1996 (IDNDR)
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How much do disasters cost? IDNDR secretariat launches survey

The impact of a disaster can mainly be measured in loss of life, the destruction of infrastructure and the ravages to society at the social and economic levels. A distinction is made between direct and indirect impact. Direct impact is the immediate damage to infrastructure and property, while indirect impact-refers to intangible flows and losses, such as in agriculture, industries, commerce, income decrease and cost increase, needs for relocation, etc.

One way of creating awareness at the political and technical level about the importance of implementing mitigation measures is to quantify the real cost of disasters. To this end, the Secretariat of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) has launched a five-year survey of Damage Caused by Disasters, which covers the period from l990 to 1994. Three pilot countries were selected to test and validate the methodology chosen: Guatemala, Morocco and the Philippines. A similar project has been launched in Costa Rica. In the case of the rest of Central America, work is being carried out in partnership with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the UNDP and other partners at the national and regional level, among them CEPREDENAC).

Goals of the Survey

The main objective of the survey is to develop a methodology which can be used by countries in order to assess in ongoing fashion the impact of disasters on the basis of inputs provided by the sectors affected.

Another goal is to obtain data about the specific period in order to measure the indirect impact and long-term results of disasters during the time under study. These data will help to build a global statistical database, a project IDNDR considers essential for developing arguments for the need to invest in mitigation.

A second goal is to use the data gathered to raise the decision-makers' awareness of the importance of disaster mitigation, by providing them with the tools to carry out cost/benefit analyses of mitigation measures, in the long run much less costly than having to pay for the impact of disasters.

At the same time, the technicians of participating institutions are being trained on the methodology to identify data about damage and classify it as direct or indirect and to assess its macroeconomic impact.


In July and August, 1996, two inter-agency IDNDR/ECLAC/UNDP missions visited the country to carry out inter-institutional interviews and organize workshops on the methodology employed by ECLAC to assess disaster impact (direct, indirect and secondary costs). Another objective of the workshops was to analyze significant data provided by the participating institutions. The result of these exercises will be published and widely disseminated nationally and throughout Central America in order to raise awareness among public authorities, civil society and the private sector of the need to reduce the risk of disasters and invest in their mitigation.

Costa Rica

An inter-institutional meeting was held. In addition, motivational visits were organized to several key institutions in order to promote common criteria for assessing the impact of disasters. The goal is to develop a methodology leading up to the development of an national institutional culture for disaster impact assessment. In addition to direct damage, indirect and secondary damage is also being examined, with a view to promoting prevention measures and guarantee lower losses in the future.

Hurricane Cesar

The governments of Nicaragua and Costa Rica have asked ECLAC to carry out detailed studies concerning the macroeconomic impact of the damage caused by Hurricane Cesar, which ravaged these nations in July 1996. The studies assess the macroeconomic damage and propose reconstruction programs. (At the time this newsletter was going to press, the final reports were being compiled, and may be requested from the IDNDR Regional Office).