Cover Image
close this bookManaging Natural Disasters and the Environment (World Bank, 1991, 232 p.)
close this folderRisk management
View the documentDisaster response: generic or agent-specific?
View the documentIntegrated planning for natural and technological disasters
View the documentEconomic incentives and disaster mitigation
View the documentCoastal zone management
View the documentDisaster insurance in New Zealand
View the documentCase study: reconstruction after North China’s earthquake
View the documentCase study: Nepal Municipal Development and Earthquake Reconstruction Project
View the documentTraining in the Asian-Pacific region
View the documentRemote sensing and technology transfer in developing countries
View the documentCase study: Minas Gerais Forestry Development Project
View the documentCase study: Da Xing An Ling Forest Fire Rehabilitation Project

Disaster response: generic or agent-specific?

E. L. Quarantelli

This paper addresses three questions about possible differences between disasters and their implications for planning. First, for planning purposes, are disasters best approached generically or in agent-specific terms? (The answer, based mostly on research, is that the generic approach is more valid. This does not mean there are no meaningful differences between disasters.) Second, along what lines might disasters be usefully differentiated? (Eight dimensions significant for emergency responses are discussed.) Third, what distinctions are made, and do they apply equally in all phases of the disaster planning cycle: mitigation or prevention, emergency preparedness, emergency response, and recovery? (It appears that the generic approach is most applicable in the emergency phases and somewhat less so in the mitigation phase. Recovery falls somewhere in between.) Answering these questions is a useful way to discuss the institutional and organizational behavior appropriate for disaster planning in different situations.

Disasters as generic phenomena

Most but not all disaster planning is agent-specific. People tend to organize planning around specific disaster agents. Thus, there are often separate plans for disasters resulting from hazardous chemicals, hurricanes, emergencies in nuclear plants, floods, and so on. Usually different organizations prepare for and respond to threats or events viewed as different from each other.

This agent-specific orientation might seem logical. Are not chemical threats different from earthquakes? Are not floods different from huge fires in high-rise buildings? The answer, of course, is yes - but in an important sense it is the wrong question. Thus, in the last decade there has been an increasing shift by disaster researchers - especially in developed countries - to a more generic, all-hazards approach.

Disaster researchers at one time approached the field in the same way many disaster planners still do. Four decades ago, in the earliest days of social science disaster studies, most researchers in disaster planning accepted the everyday distinctions between different kinds of disaster agents (such as floods, explosions, hurricanes, and fires). Soon these distinctions tended to be collapsed into two general categories: natural disasters (“acts of God”) and technological ones (those supposedly brought about by human actions). Recently, these surface or manifest distinctions are increasingly questioned and the focus is more on whether to take a generic or an agent-specific approach to disasters (Quarantelli 1982).

The agent-specific approach assumes that each type of disaster agent (such as a volcanic eruption or nuclear fallout) or each class of agents (whether natural or technological) has certain distinctive characteristics that affect what occurs (Baum, Fleming, and Davidson 1983). The generic approach assumes that there are more individual and organizational behavioral similarities than differences for all disaster occasions (Quarantelli 1987b). Most social scientists in disaster research now take a generic approach rather than study different agents or classes of physical agents separately.

There are two main reasons for this shift to a generic approach. One is theoretical, the other (more important) empirical. Theoretically, there has been a shift away from a physical focus toward a more social conception of disasters. This is partly the result of recognizing that an event such as an earthquake or a chemical explosion does not automatically result in a “disaster.” That is, a natural land movement of a certain kind is an earthquake, and the transformation of an inert liquid into an expansive gas is a chemical explosion. But unless there are significant social negative consequences of some kind, these happenings remain only a geophysical event or a chemical process (for example, an earthquake in uninhabited land or a safely contained chemical explosion). From this perspective, a disaster can be identified only in terms of a social occasion, by the characteristics of individuals and groups reacting to a situation. The socially oriented conception of disaster shifts the focus to the common or similar properties of the social happening and away from the physical features of natural and technological agents and their effects.

More important, social science studies reveal that most sociobehavioral features of disasters are not agent- or class-agent-specific, but are generally similar for different types of natural and technological agents (Drabek 1986). For many of the human and organizational problems that come up in preparing for and managing a response to disasters, it does not matter what specific kind of disaster agent is involved. Whatever the agent, the same general activities have to be undertaken, whether the task be warning, evacuation, sheltering, feeding, search and rescue, disposition of the dead, mobilization of resources, communication flow, interorganizational coordination, or public information, and whether the tasks involve individuals or groups.

The same kind of warning system is needed, for example, to get people to evacuate, no matter what agent is involved. It does not matter if the agent is a tornado, an oil spill, a tsunami, or a major fire at a hazardous waste site. What motivates people to heed warning messages, what kind of warning message is effective, what limits the acceptance of a warning, and so on, is the same in all cases (see, for example, Perry and Mushkatel 1984, Perry 1985). The human aspects of disaster behavior do not depend on the type of disaster agent.

Similarly, if there is a need for organized search and rescue or large-scale emergency medical services after a disaster, the specific disaster agent is irrelevant to important organizational issues that must be dealt with. Research consistently shows, for example, that the less seriously injured are likely to be treated first, that one or a few hospitals will take a disproportionate number of the injured victims, and that there will be no overall coordination of the medical-health response (Quarantelli 1983, Auf der Heide 1989). Similarly, studies show that ordinary local citizens quickly undertake most of the initial search and rescue, that the handling of dead bodies is psychologically disturbing, and that formal search-and-rescue teams tend to operate in an uncoordinated way (Mileti and others 1975, Drabek and others 1981). The type of agent involved affects the execution of such emergency tasks very little.

The same is true for different classes or categories of agents. A disaster preparedness primer, for example, notes certain differences between community planning for natural and chemical hazards. But it then observes that:

These differences do not necessarily rule out the application of principles of natural disaster planning to problems of chemical hazards. In fact... studies on natural disaster planning and response can be of value for persons connected with chemical disaster preparedness.

It then states:

Regardless of the characteristics of a particular disaster agent and the specific demands generated by it, the same kinds of community response-related tasks are necessary in both kinds of disaster and for all disaster phases. In any community, for example, the assessment of hazards and the aggregation of disaster-relevant resources are necessary, regardless of the specific hazards and resources in question. Similarly, post-impact communication and decisionmaking procedures must be planned for and activated in any community crisis.

Then it notes:

To draw an analogy, a battle on land is fought with different weapons, materiel, personnel and support systems than those used in sea battles, but, nevertheless, the general overall battle requirements are the same for both. In both cases, intelligence about enemy strength and movements must be gathered, resources must be collected, trained personnel must be led effectively, and so on. The same is true for disaster planning: although disaster agents and the human and material resources needed to respond to them may vary, the same generic kinds of activities must be performed in the predisaster, preimpact, response, and recovery periods, regardless of the specific threat (Tierney 1980: 18-19).

Questioning of the distinction between technological and natural disasters has accelerated in the last decade. Researchers such as Bolton (1986), for example, note many similarities between natural hazards and industrial crises in developed countries. And operational personnel, such as Wijkman and Timberlake (1984) indicate in the very title of their volume, Acts of God or Acts of Man?, that the distinction is not meaningful in developing societies. Others looking at particular behaviors such as evacuation have noted similarities in volcanic eruptions, floods, and nuclear power plant accidents (Perry 1983).

Even when social behavior seems somewhat agent-specific, closer examination often indicates a link of a broader nature. The concept of “disaster subcultures,” for example, was initially linked to a specific agent. The terms “flood subculture” and “hurricane subculture” (Moore 1964, Osborn 1970) refer to individual and organizational adjustment mechanisms developed as the result of repeated exposures to the same kind of disaster. There is now reason to believe that experiential and other situational factors are more important in the development of adjustment subcultures than the characteristics of the agent (Drabek 1986: 339-40). Some even argue that activities such as earthquake prediction are not fully agent-specific. Turner (1980) implies that much of what researchers know about how people respond to threats and warnings for other dangers applies equally to prediction scenarios for earthquakes.

Finally, researchers who argue for a generic approach question whether concrete agents can be identified for all disasters and whether agents can always be easily classified. What is the agent in a famine or drought, for example? Are the sources of forest and brush fires, or of avalanches and landslides, to be found in human actions or natural phenomena? What about physical fatigue in bridges or pipelines that results in structural collapse? What about nondeliberately contaminated food or medical products? What is the source of disaster? Plane crashes and many other transportation accidents can be generated by both natural and technological agents.

Not only social science disaster researchers favor the generic approach. When the U.S. Congress was considering the implementation plan required by the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977, the Office of Technology Assessment was asked to develop “Criteria for Evaluating the Earthquake Mitigation Implementation Plan.” On the issue of an “earthquake versus an all-natural-hazards strategy,” the OTA report concluded that:

While it may be convenient for researchers and the large Federal agencies to handle hazards categorically, the practicalities of State and local government organization and function increasingly required integrated planning and operations for all hazards. Similarly, Federal construction and housing programs also could be responsive to all hazards, not just to one or a few selected hazards (quoted in The Hazard Monthly 1980; see also Coates and others 1979).

Some say the distinction between approaches is operational, not academic - that field personnel dealing with an emergency need agent-specific knowledge such as how far people must be evacuated to avoid toxicity or flying debris if a chlorine tanker threatens to explode. Others say academic researchers can afford to deal with the more generic questions such as what general factors motivate people to evacuate.

This distinction between operational and academic concern is really a confusion of tactical matters (such as the distance to evacuate), which would vary whether disaster agents are similar or dissimilar, with strategic matters (such as general principles of motivation applicable in all situations). There are strategies for dealing with disasters that cut across disasters. Tactics tend to be more situation-specific, but even the military (from which the concepts of strategy and tactics are drawn) seems to feel that soldiers can be taught tactical principles that apply in most combat situations.

Even so practical a field as medicine proceeds as if disaster planning and response need not be agent-specific. Rarely do disaster medical personnel train and prepare for only one kind of medical treatment. The World Health Organization defines a disaster as “a situation which implies unforeseen, serious and immediate threats to public health” (Lechat 1980: 18). Disaster medicine emphasizes general principles, focusing on such nondisaster-specific aspects of organization as personnel alerting systems, triage, and the allocation of patients to hospitals (Butman 1982).

The generic approach to disasters, by combining dissimilar agents and factors, may appear to violate common sense. In a way, this is correct but not necessarily significant, as this analogy may illustrate: biologists have long classified bats, whales, and human beings as mammals. Despite manifest differences in size, structure, and function among these three creatures, for biological purposes these obvious commonsense differences are far less significant than less overt structural and functional similarities, such as the fact that all mammals are warm-blooded and bear live young. For purposes of studying and applying biological principles, the fact that a whale is bigger than a bat, or that a whale needs a water environment and human beings basically need a land environment, is unimportant. The same principle applies in combining manifestly different physical agents or elements of disaster planning. In fact, disaster researchers have been advised to follow the lead of biologists and distinguish between phenotypes and genotypes, focusing less on manifest surface (phenotypical) features and more on similar underlying (genotypical) characteristics (Quarantelli 1987b: 27).

The generic or all-hazards approach has not always been easy to accept, for several reasons. For one thing, much early work on disasters focused on the physical agent involved, so this became a habitual way of approaching the problem to some - for example, flood control or hurricane prediction specialists. More recently, researchers and operational people in fire research and nuclear risk have shown a similar reluctance to move away from an agent-specific orientation. They have long struggled with questions about those physical agents and their agent-specific characteristics, and they have trouble seeing that sociobehavioral studies of other disaster situations can apply directly to their own areas. They illustrate Kenneth Burke’s statement that “a way of seeing is also a way of not seeing” (quoted in Lindesmith and Strauss 1949: 101).

The possibility of recognizing that the agent-specific perspective may be less valid than another may be limited for people working on disaster problems because many of them live in relatively different professional and intellectual research worlds, between which communication is limited. Some people specialize in one kind of agent (such as fires, earthquakes, nuclear hazards, or landslides); others specialize in topics and questions that cut across disasters (such as systems for warning, search and rescue, medical treatment, and handling of the dead). In a sense, some divide the disaster world horizontally, others vertically. This does not facilitate communication between one axis and another. And it is probably more difficult for a vertical communicator (an agent-specific specialist such as a seismologist) to understand a horizontal communicator (a general disaster specialist such as a sociologist) than vice versa. The seismologist is likely to have a narrower perspective than the sociologist.

Different dimensions of disaster

The generic approach does not deny that there are important differences between disaster occasions - only that they are not linked to specific agents. In some cases, for example, warning is possible and in others it is impossible or difficult. In some cases a disaster’s impact is diffuse and in others it is focused and local. The physical difference between an explosion and an earthquake is less important than the fact that neither usually allows time for warning. Similarly, “a flash flood resulting from a broken dam might have more similarity to a sudden tornado than to a slowly rising Mississippi River flood” (Stoddard 1968: 12); and “a flood in Cincinnati for which there may be two weeks’ warnings, is simply not a comparable event to a flood in Denver with six hours’ warning, or to one in Rapid City where warnings were received as flood waters entered dwellings” (Mileti and others 1975: 5). “The differences between damaging events due to the same natural or man-made agent may be larger than between events initiated by a different agent” (Hewitt and Burton 1971: 124). Some approaches cut across agents and look at different dimensions of the social setting in which disasters occur.

Disaster typologies based on combinations of meaningful dimensions of social occasions would help us understand common social behavior for different agents and different social behavior for the same agent. Such typologies should combine such generic social dimensions as a disaster’s predictability, relative loss impact, recurrence, unfamiliarity, and rapidity of onset; the social centrality of the affected population; the proportion of the population involved; and how long they are involved (Quarantelli 1985: 58). All of these dimensions can be seen as characteristics of the social occasion rather than of the physical disaster agent.

These dimensions cut across not only different disaster agents (both natural and technological) but also the same disaster agent (such as a flood or chemical explosion). For instance, a chemical explosion may be a familiar threat near chemical complexes but unfamiliar in other communities. The local people’s familiarity with chemical complexes will affect their responses to warnings, their probability of evacuating, and their expectations about emergency organization and behavior. Here I suggest that disaster researchers follow the lead provided by biologists who distinguish between phenotypes and genotypes. We should develop typologies of disaster occasions.

Unfortunately no such typologies exist - or none has found wide acceptance in the disaster research community. (For one proposed even before social science disaster research had any vitality, see Carr 1932; for more recent proposed typologies, see Barton 1970 and May 1989.) In the last decade, eight dimensions of a population’s response to disaster have increasingly been singled out as important for a typology within the generic approach:

· The relative proportion of the population involved.
· The social centrality of the affected population.
· The length of time the affected population is involved.
· The rapidity of involvement by the population.
· The predictability of involvement.
· The unfamiliarity of the crisis.
· The depth of the population’s involvement.
· The recurrence of involvement.

These eight characteristics of a population’s response to disasters emphasize characteristics of the social occasion rather than of the physical agent (even if there is one and sometimes, as with a famine, there is not).


The proportion of the population involved relative to some base is far more important for planning purposes than absolute numbers (Britton 1987: 35-36). This is true whether the focus is on concrete losses or psychological involvement. For example, 500 dead in a metropolitan area of 5 million involves proportionately far less of the community than does 100 dead in a town of only 1,000 inhabitants. Similarly, in terms of property damage or destruction, the same absolute numbers might mean a catastrophe in some communities but only a bigger-than-usual emergency in others. Generally this disaster characteristic has less to do with the scope of geographic or physical impact than with the social impact of the disaster. The degree of community involvement has to be measured relative to the total social resource base.

Organizationally, this dimension has several important implications. For one, the greater the relative social involvement, the more the occasion is a disaster rather than an emergency. It has increasingly been argued that a disaster is both quantitatively and qualitatively different from an emergency and necessitates different kinds of planning. A Bhopal gas poisoning incident is not merely at one end of a scale on which a gas leak in a house is at the other end (see Shrivastava 1987a).

Along another line, the huge urban complexes that are coming into being in many developing societies are - contrary to widespread belief - far more likely to accelerate the rate of everyday emergencies than the rate of disasters. But when an urban disaster occurs, it is more likely to be catastrophic. The tip of a disaster is much higher when viewed relatively than in absolute numbers. Handling 250 deaths a day may be a normal statistic in a metropolitan area. Institutional disaster planning must take this into account.


Also important for planning purposes is whether the affected population is central or peripheral to the larger social community. That is, the victims may be from the area or they may not be (see Quarantelli 1985: 60). The identical disaster agent would have a different effect on different population mixes in the same community. If a tornado were to hit a crowded airport terminal, for example, its effect would be different than if it hit a large, local social event. In one case the victims would include many transients; in the other, many closely linked, longtime neighbors would be the victims.

Organizationally, the more mixed the population of victims, the more likely there will be problems. Everything else being equal, homogeneous populations present fewer planning problems. In developing societies, for example, some areas are populated at certain times of the year by many temporary migrant workers, and some are populated mostly by a stable native population. Disaster planning, to be effective, should be different for the two situations, even if the disaster occasion is the same.


The length of time of involvement refers to the crisis response of the population, not to the duration of the threat, which is a dimension of the physical agent. Sometimes the duration of the primary disaster agent is short but the length of crisis involvement is longer because of perceived secondary threats. For example, an accident involving a train carrying chemicals may be over in a few minutes, but the threat or actual slow release of toxic chemicals from the wrecked train may generate a crisis that lasts days - as happened in Mississauga, Canada (see Scanlon and Padgham 1980). Or, as a number of disaster researchers have noted, on an occasion like the 1979 nuclear hazard accident at Three Mile Island, the duration of the accident was relatively short but psychologically the crisis for certain segments of the population continues to this day. The volcanic eruption at Mount St. Helens has had the same effect on some nearby residents.

This dimension of disaster is primarily a matter of perception and the so-called experts and the general population may perceive the risks very differently. Thus, in developed societies some potential nuclear and chemical threats are often viewed differently by interested parties. Citizens generally use different criteria for risk assessment than do workers or specialists in these fields (Slovic, Fischhoff, and Lichtenstein 1980, Covello 1983, Slovic 1987). The differences are less the result of a technology being involved and more a reflection of different perceptions. Those most intimately involved with a technological threat downplay it with something like the “fatalism” with which native populations in developing countries view such natural threats as volcanic eruptions or floods. Such major perceptual differences can present major planning difficulties for disaster planners, who must get people to agree on definitions of what is or is not safe, must get people to evacuate, and so on. Generally, the longer the perceived involvement, the more criticism disaster response organizations can anticipate.


Sometimes a population becomes slowly involved in a crisis, sometimes its involvement is rapid. Populations were quickly involved in the flash flood in Rapid City, many dangerous chemical emergencies resulting from transportation accidents, the false story of a dam collapse at Port Jervis, New York, and the collapse of a hotel walkway in Kansas City (see, for example, Mileti 1974, Danzig, Thayer, and Gallanter 1958, Quarantelli 1984b). Rapidity of involvement is sometimes related to predictability but is independent of it. Predictability has to do with expectedness, rapidity with speed. The two can vary independently. And rapidity of involvement is a characteristic of the disaster occasion, not to be equated with the speed of onset, which is a feature of some physical disaster agents.

The rapidity of the response pattern is viewed from the perspective of those involved. It may or may not correspond with the actual time available for action. This can obviously create planning difficulties. Generally populations and organizations adjust best when they are involved slowly. In some cases there may not even be much of a crisis. Adjustment is much more difficult when involvement is rapid. Problems are often compounded in developing countries where conceptions of social time differ between more Western-oriented emergency groups and the local population.


Sometimes populations can predict their possible involvement in disasters; other times, the crises are unexpected. Such evidence as exists indicates that the unexpected is much more psychologically disturbing than the expected. If one can predict involvement in a dangerous situation, one is more likely to attribute culpability for the involvement to self. If predictability is low - as seemed to be the case at Mount St. Helens and Three Mile Island - others are more likely to be held culpable. Also, if predictability is high - as when populations live near chemical complexes or on floodplains - there is greater sensitivity to danger cues, more willingness to act upon them, and less trauma in evacuation (Quarantelli 1984a). Finally, if predictability is low, we speculate there would be a tendency toward more affect being expressed in the reaction.

The common thread in all of this is the element of the unexpected, as a result of which people are unable to bring their normal routines and coping mechanisms to bear on a crisis. Most people behave relatively well in an immediate crisis, but there is undoubtedly considerable stress and strain that may have negative psychological consequences. By definition, there are problems predicting the unexpected - and the less a situation is expected, the less likely relevant organizations are to have prepared and trained for the occasion.


Unfamiliarity with a disaster occasion also seems to be psychologically and organizationally disturbing, for many reasons. For one thing, people see different kinds of threats differently. They are clearly most concerned about and afraid of those that are most unfamiliar, such as threats associated with chemicals and nuclear power plants. The actual knowledge populations have of many natural disaster threats may be little better than their knowledge of other threats, but some threats are perceived as more unfamiliar and therefore more worrisome to most people.

Unfamiliarity can be associated with the “statistically unusual.” For example, few people have experience in search and rescue activities. Too, in many disasters many different tasks must be undertaken in very short periods of time. What in normal times is familiar and spread out over time often occurs almost simultaneously on the occasion of a disaster. Often, although not always, there is a strong perception of being unable to control the event to which one is subject. All of these factors affect the reactions of disaster victims.

These are examples from the behavior of individuals, but groups are little better at coping with the unfamiliar. Organizations do have an advantage over individuals in that good disaster planning can often forecast well what problems might arise should disaster strike. Disaster agencies, whether in developed or developing societies, are not totally vulnerable to the unfamiliar.


One can take certain kinds of losses (such as deaths of family members, the loss of homes, forced moves) as an indication of a disaster’s impact. But the relative nature of the loss may be more important than the absolute loss. It is not so much what one has lost in absolute terms, but what one has lost relative to others. In one of the first disaster studies, Prince (1920) noted that victims of the Halifax ship harbor explosion felt less personal loss because they viewed their own losses in the context of about 2,000 dead and enormous property damage. Of course, the perception of deprivation can be relative to other people or relative to one’s own standard of living. The same kind of disasters may seem different because of the victims’ different depths of involvement.

This is a particular problem for organizational disaster planning. It is generally not a matter for which too many realistic prior scenarios can be projected. But sensitivity to the possibility that the issue could arise can somewhat lessen its impact when it happens.


For some populations, involvement in disasters is a recurrent, not a new, experience. There may even be differences among subpopulations. In a number of communities, some groups living on floodplains can almost count on some flooding every year, just as people living near major chemical complexes can expect emergencies. But the fact of prior experience, even of many experiences, appears to be far less important than whether those experiences have been incorporated into attitudes and behaviors. Sometimes the development of a disaster subculture is unrelated to the frequency with which events occur. Disaster subcultures essentially make a quasiroutine of disaster occasions, which makes them much less psychologically disruptive and disturbing. If recurrent experiences do not become a quasiroutine, they can become a source of stress. Whether recurrent disasters harm mental health depends on whether a disaster subculture developed to protect people can also help or handicap organizational involvement in recurrent disasters. Everything else being equal, most organizations plan and respond better the more experiences they have with a type of disaster. But experience with disasters is not automatically good. Some groups learn little and, worse, a few learn the wrong lessons. There is also a strong tendency to take the last disaster, and the needs and problems it creates, as the prototype of future disasters. This can be very important. The next disaster may be drastically different and may create very different demands for the organizations involved. See Forrest (1979) for a study of a community that usually expected a hurricane but instead got a flood.


Are these eight dimensions all that should be considered in a disaster typology? Almost certainly not. Another is resource availability: what would be usable for disaster planning. Some societies and communities are simply more resource-rich than others. The distinction is not so much between industrial/urban and agricultural/rural societies, as much as between developed and developing countries (labels and distinctions that leave much to be desired). Everything else being equal, organizations, communities, and societies that have more resources can better prepare for and respond to disasters.

Similarly, there are differences in both degree and kind of disaster preparedness. (There is some correlation between preparedness and development but it is far from a high correlation.) Adding resource availability and degree of preparedness as dimensions for disaster typologies seems both logically and empirically justified - they have been used in an attempt to develop a societal typology for disaster emergency medical service (Quarantelli 1989) - but until typologies based on a generic approach to disasters are systematically generated, used, and evaluated, this is only a suggestion, not a recommendation.

Different phases of disaster planning

The examples given for the eight dimensions relevant to all disasters apply almost exclusively (and equally) to the two middle phases or stages of the disaster planning cycle: emergency preparedness and response. The generic or all-hazard approach is most useful for those two parts of the planning cycle.

The generic approach is also somewhat valid for certain disaster mitigation and recovery issues. Issues about pre-impact individual disaster insurance coverage (Kunreuther 1978) and the longer run demographic consequences of disasters (Rossi and others 1983) seem more or less the same whatever the specific disaster agent. Research has shown a widespread reluctance to purchase disaster insurance and relatively few important changes in the demographic structures of disaster-stricken communities and societies. Further studies may reveal significant cross-societal differences in these matters but they would still be a function of the social situation, not the specific agent.

Disaster mitigation behavior might be somewhat more agent-specific than other disaster planning activities, for two reasons. Some measures that can be taken to prevent disaster or weaken its impact are agent- or agent-class-specific - for example, seeding clouds to prevent the formation of hurricanes or encasing nuclear power plants in building structures to mitigate radiation leaks. And the knowledge bases and specialists needed for such planning are different from those needed for other kinds of preventive or mitigation planning.

Not all aspects of disaster mitigation planning are agent-specific. For example, the general bureaucratic arguments advanced for a physical solution to potential disaster problems, the sources of government and private sector support for and resistance to such measures, popular views of the legitimacy and acceptability of suggested plans, and the willingness to put preventive measures on a political agenda: these tend to be similar whatever the disaster agent. The nontechnical problems of implementing earthquake mitigation measures (Drabek, Mushkatel, and Kilijanek 1983) are not so different from the problems implementing preventive measures for chemical disasters (Tierney 1980). In short, human, group, organizational, community, and social aspects of disaster mitigation planning tend to be generic rather than agent-specific.

This is even true of planning for disaster recovery. To be sure, some technical factors will be agent-specific. How to clean up the pollution of agricultural land from saltwater flooding or nuclear radiation are different technical recovery activities. But the social aspects of recovery planning are more generic than agent-specific.

The implications for planning seems clear. Organizations involved in any aspects of disaster management should give priority to the generic approach to planning - especially institutional planning for emergency preparedness and response. More technical aspects of mitigation and, to a lesser extent, recovery activities require some attention to more agent-specific factors.

Apart from theoretical, logical, or experience-based reasons for taking the generic or all-hazards approach to disaster planning, there are practical reasons for doing so. The generic approach is (a) cost-efficient in terms of time, effort, money, and other resources; (b) politically better because it mobilizes a wider range of groups, thereby creating a more powerful constituency for the process; (c) a good way to prevent duplication, conflict, overlaps, and gaps in preparedness and response efforts; and (d) a way to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of organized efforts to cope with disaster occasions (Quarantelli 1982).

Integrated planning for natural and technological disasters

Parviz Towfighi

Preparing simultaneously for natural and technological disasters is complex but planning models exist now that make integrated planning easier. Integrated planning involves a shift in emphasis from postdisaster relief to predisaster preparedness; a public education program that gets usable information to the people who should be prepared for disaster and that helps change their attitude from one of indifference or fatalism to one of preparedness; the establishment of early warning systems useful for all disasters; the integration of disaster planning into the mainstream of government decisionmaking; stronger organizations and better coordination of the links between them; better training at all levels; and the increased transfer of technology and knowledge to those at risk. Local media appropriate for disaster communications (especially radio) should be bolstered and local emergency response mechanisms strengthened. Regulation of land use (including the siting and transportation of hazardous materials) should be rationalized internationally as well as locally.

In 1989 a distinguished group of experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General under the chairmanship of Dr. Frank Press was asked to prepare a program of activities for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. This group recognized the validity of an integrated approach to disaster preparedness. The agenda it prepared for the Decade included the following priorities:

· A shift in emphasis from postdisaster relief to predisaster preparedness and planning.

· A public education program to shift the public attitude from fatalism to awareness.

· Acceptance of an integrated approach to disaster mitigation.

· The establishment of early warning systems.

· The development of reliable historical databases.

· A reorientation of government thinking to integrate disaster planning into the mainstream of government decisionmaking.

· Improved organizational strength and the training of specialists.

· Increased transfer of technology and knowledge to those at risk, particularly in developing nations (Ad Hoc Group of Experts, UN IDNDR 1989).

The ad hoc group of experts laid the foundation for a system of disaster mitigation that will be developed globally, regionally, and nationally in the 1990s.

“Integrated planning” - which considers technical, technological, physical, economic, social, psychological, organizational, and institutional factors - diners substantially from traditional predisaster planning (which stresses regulatory measures) and disaster management (which is concerned solely with emergency preparedness and management). Does it make sense to combine planning for natural and technological disasters? After all, there are major differences between them. They differ most in predictability, the type of health hazard they entail, and the degree of specialized response they call for. A word, first, about those differences.

Predictability. Most natural disasters, except earthquakes, can be predicted with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Predicting the occurrence of natural phenomena relies heavily on technological systems. Predicting the probability of occurrence of technological disasters is more difficult because machines cannot factor in human error, a significant factor in technological disasters.

Health hazards. Natural disasters can cause casualties, property damage, and certain epidemics, which can be brought under control in a reasonable amount of time. The harmful effects on health of technological disasters tend to last longer and be harder to cope with.

Specialized response. Technological disasters require specialized emergency responses. The community, pulling together, can usually cope with the effects of such natural disasters as earthquakes and floods. A nuclear mishap is different. Dumping 5,000 tons of boron, lead, and other material on the reactor core at Chernobyl required specialized help and absolutely no community participation.

But both types of disaster require certain similar measures for preparedness, emergency response, and postdisaster periods. Early warning systems can be used for both natural and technological disasters, for example. And both require institutional response capabilities, logistical preparedness, community education and training, vulnerability and risk assessment, site evaluations, communications networks, and plans, procedures, and hazard control mechanisms.

Integrated planning

Preparing for natural and technological disaster is complex. Doubts about the feasibility of integrated planning in the 1960s and 1970s stemmed from the inability of existing planning models to relate many variables - especially qualitative and quantitative variables - to each other. The development of complicated models is less of a problem now than it was then. And certain steps are important to planning for both types of disaster. These are described below.


Industries have a great responsibility in preventing disasters. References to industries and disaster usually evoke images of the chemical and nuclear industries - and the preventive role of these industries cannot be overemphasized. But the focus of media and active anti-nuclear groups on technological disasters has obscured the importance of other industries, especially the construction industry, which can greatly reduce loss of life and property when appropriately regulated. Regulatory measures are more strictly observed for chemical industries than for construction.

Chemical industries, especially multinationals in developing countries, ordinarily deal with the central government. As a result, local authorities have little, if any, control over the siting and inspection of facilities or the policing of adherence to safety regulations and standards.

Siting decisions about nuclear power plants in developing countries rest with the central government. Decentralization of decisionmaking is impractical because local authorities lack the expertise needed for planning and control, local communities are unaware of the potential dangers of nuclear power plants, and local media are too weak to make an issue of such developments or to awaken the community about potential problems. As part of integrated planning, a process should be put in motion that will overcome such difficulties at the local level and preparations should be made for partial delegation of decisionmaking to local communities and governments.

Despite much debate about the transfer of technology, appropriate technology, and the adoption of technological safeguards, important technological issues remain unresolved, as they have to do with developing countries’ wishes for technological advancement and their ability to pay for transfer of the most advanced technologies, should barriers to such transfer be removed. A major goal of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction is to ease the transfer to developing countries of advanced technologies that can be used to prevent or mitigate disasters.

Technological disasters that result from the transfer of technology may occur because of the types of technology transferred or because of the recipients’ inability to use them, control them, or make them safe. Human errors play a large part in many technological disasters but so do economics, because budgets affect which technologies are used.


Western telecommunications are so advanced and the developed countries are so used to instant news on world events that telecommunications has assumed an exaggerated importance in disaster planning and management. Certainly speedy transmission of news of a disaster is valuable in disaster management. Equally important are community awareness and preparatory programs, local education and training programs, and simple guidelines and manuals that reflect awareness of local social and economic conditions.

Local predisaster planning should be a joint effort of local authorities and the communities they serve, whose active participation in planning will strengthen their ability to implement emergency measures. Local media must also be strengthened - and must be appropriate for the situation. If most of the population is illiterate, newspapers, manuals, and guidelines are not the best way to reach or educate the public - and radio may make more sense. But many local communities, especially in rural areas, do not have local radio stations, and regional or national stations do not have preparedness programs for natural or technological disasters that threaten a specific community. The IDNDR is drafting a strategy for bolstering local media.


In any manual or guideline for predisaster planning and preparedness one finds recommendations about land-use control, legislation, and regulations, as well as strict criteria for the siting of hazardous industries and the inspection of facilities. But rules and regulations, while necessary, are not enough to prevent disasters. Control of land use, for example, is as difficult to enforce in developed countries (which suffer from highly decentralized decisionmaking) as in developing countries (which suffer from centralized decisionmaking). Everywhere the economics of land use often overrides other considerations. Integrated planning must find practical ways to deal with this problem. Otherwise, the rules remain on the books and the manuals on the shelves while residential quarters continue to be built near airports and chemical facilities on unsuitable land threatened by-floods and landslides.

Sometimes governments violate safety standards rather than protect and safeguard them. The transboundary movement of toxic wastes is a case in point - a prime reason for having international laws and conventions to control the movement and dumping of such wastes. IDNDR could sort through the hierarchy and recommend which decisions should be made by local, regional, national, or international authorities.


In a first step toward preparing communities to be ready for impending disaster, IDNDR has already put a reasonable amount of emphasis on the development and deployment of global and regional early warning systems. A second and perhaps the more daunting task is to develop or improve local response mechanisms. What is needed is a partnership between global early warning systems and initiatives to develop national and local response mechanisms. International agencies should address this issue. Developing countries need financial and technical assistance to build such capabilities.


Natural and technological disasters are the domain of scientists and experts whose studies are more often concerned with technical and scientific issues than with their social, psychological, and economic ramifications. But technically oriented educational programs and information systems have only marginal value to the people who might be affected by such disasters. Industries, civil defense organizations, and the scientific community are most active in preparing the information and educational programs, and most of those that are available focus on the emergency and postdisaster period. There is little on how to prevent certain disasters or mitigate their impact. Roles must be defined for predisaster planning.

It is important not only to create and share technological and scientific databases, but to develop information systems for the people who are vulnerable to specific natural and technological disasters and to find the right mechanisms for getting that information to them. But making people in disaster-prone areas aware of a potential danger is not much help to them if the price of prevention or protection is beyond their means or that of the community. Whatever their form, information packages should indicate practical actions that communities should and could take in cooperation with other actors.


To some extent, disasters cause death and property damage because of value systems, superstition, unawareness, indifference, curiosity, fatalism, and sentimental attachment. In a raging blaze, people sometimes risk their lives to rescue household effects of sentimental value. Spectators gather near a chemical explosion to watch. In disasters for which people should stay indoors, curiosity leads some to venture out. People tend to rebuild their houses on sites destroyed by earthquake. Authorities tend to ignore scientists’ and technicians’ warnings. Instead of making preparations to mitigate disasters, public officials often try to minimize the extent of risk. Institutions established to control land use and enforce building codes become lax in carrying out their duties. Short-term economic gains take precedence over public safety. Relocation efforts encounter resistance because people do not believe they are in immediate danger. Distrust of authorities, fatalism, and sheer ignorance often increase the number of casualties.

To change attitudes that reflect cultural values is not easy. Predisaster planning is alien to many communities, the need for it not readily felt or understood. The first step is to increase awareness. Changing attitudes takes longer. Programs such as APELL (Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies at Local Level) should be improved and translated into local languages and dialects. Issues should be discussed in the context of local cultures. Guidelines and manuals should be made more useful for the educated public and government institutions. There is little that authorities can do if the support, understanding, and participation of local communities are not forthcoming.

The economics of disaster prevention and mitigation

Preparedness and mitigation measures, it is often argued, cost much less than losses in life and property that would otherwise occur as the result of a disaster. This argument is morally sound but can be carried to an extreme. One could recommend, for example, scrapping plans for all future nuclear power plants and dismantling the existing ones; relocating people who live in coastal areas threatened by hurricanes or tsunamis or installing protective facilities; relocating settlements on major faults; preventing the poor from building on land subject to landslides and floods and giving them land in safer zones; building all chemical plants far from population centers; relocating most international airports, and so on. Few take these recommendations seriously, but this does not prevent people with good intentions from suggesting them.

At the other extreme - not often recognized as such - preparation for disasters is a cost-effective response to risk, based on an assessment of vulnerability and the probability that a certain disaster will occur. How valid are these assignments of probability? No one can tell. The probability given for a meltdown in a nuclear plant was one in 10,000 years but a meltdown did happen. An event with a zero probability of occurrence does not have a zero possibility of occurrence. Risk assessment techniques are developed primarily for insurance purposes, so they are not a suitable basis for formulating policies and measures for preventing and mitigating disasters. Bhopal and Chernobyl are good arguments for changing the bases of risk assessment and economic rationales for disaster preparedness.

Developing countries cannot afford to undertake disaster mitigation measures without outside help. Protecting them from such effects of global warming as recurrent floods, hurricanes, and rising sea levels will require bold measures and international cooperation. Industrialized countries have already discussed helping Bangladesh contain its devastating floods.

IDNDR should seriously consider establishing an international fund for predisaster preparedness and prevention projects. This might prove to be a better service to the developing countries than funds for reconstruction and development.

Economic incentives and disaster mitigation

Andrew S. Natsios

Policymakers can probably change social behavior more effectively through market incentives than by threatening punishment for failure to comply with rules. Lower insurance premiums and lower taxes for those observing building codes could be the best way to encourage disaster-resistant construction. Loan qualifications could be determined partly on the basis of risk assessment. Farm families could be given incentives to plant and care for trees, as part of reforestation projects. Consumers could be taught to ask for and expect disaster-resistant construction. The state, instead of policing such cooperation, could direct its funds and energies toward such necessarily public services as providing effective early warning systems for disaster.

In 1976 Charles Schultze, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Carter and now professor of economics at Harvard University, gave the Godkin Lecture at Harvard, perhaps the most celebrated lecture series in the United States. His remarks were later published by the Brookings Institution in the 1977 book The Public Use of Private Interest. I would like to apply the model of analysis described in that book to disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness. The results may offend some scientists and practitioners as it suggests that some of their work has not been productive. But the disaster mitigation strategies we now pursue need to be reviewed critically and, I believe, need to take some new directions.

Schultze argued that domestic public policy in the United States had failed to provide much of what it had promised both in public services and regulatory reform. He wrote:

There is a growing body of objective evidence that government is not performing its new tasks effectively. The counterproductivity of governmental regulation of transportation is well documented. Efforts to improve the environment, while far from a failure, are unnecessarily expensive and increasingly bogged down in Rube Goldberg regulations, legal snarls, and games between regulators and industry as enforcement deadlines draw near. While Medicare and Medicaid have improved access to health care for the poor and the aged, government attempts to deal with rapidly escalating health costs have produced only burgeoning volumes of regulations and no results. Professional evaluations of manpower training, work experience, and related federal job programs usually find that their payoffs are low. Although the compilation of absurdities perpetrated in the name of industrial safety often emanates from suspect sources - the industries being regulated - even the sympathetic observer finds it hard to recognize many of the regulations as anything but absurdities. The current debate over long-term energy policy shows how very difficult it is for government to deal with complicated price and resource-allocation problems.

A growing body of research has been done primarily by economists comparing the measurable consequences of government programs and regulatory schemes with the specific objectives those policy interventions sought to achieve. This research has shown a wide gap between promise and reality. Public policy in the United States has frequently had general consequences few anticipated, some of which were quite pernicious, others of which were irrelevant and unrelated to the explicit goals of the interventions, and most of which cost either government or particularly the private sector a good deal of money that could have been much more productively used elsewhere.

One example will suffice to indicate the flavor of much of this research (though this particular example is taken from a study done after Schultze’s book). Richard Zeckhauser, an economist at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, studied OSHA regulations (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), a regulatory invention of the late 1960s to reduce accidents and health risks in the workplace. He found that while OSHA itself estimated just one of its regulations would cost American industry $10.5 billion to implement, “it seems reasonably certain... that the gains have not been major” in improving safety or health in the workplace. Zeckhauser explained this discontinuity between objective and result by suggesting that what appeared dangerous to regulators caused few accidents and that OSHA does not have the staff to police American industry. He suggested instead raising the cost of accidents to industry by taxing them at a rate sufficiently high that managers would, without any regulation, find out how to reduce the accident rate in their workplace. The moral of the case study is that appearances in public policy are usually deceiving: those conditions on the workplace that appeared to cause accidents did not. We did much damage to the competitiveness of American industry but accomplished little for the American worker by imposing this regulatory scheme (Nicholas and Zeckhauser 1977).

Schultze and Zeckhauser suggest that social and economic forces are much more complex and mysterious than any scholar could understand. As the complexity of these forces increases, our ability to regulate their operation declines. People find ways to take financial advantage of programs and to evade regulations that frustrate the most brilliant policy and program analyst. Human behavior is not as simple or as controllable as some policymakers think.

In many respects the disaster preparedness discipline faces the same discontinuities that domestic policymakers now confront in the United States. Our early warning systems for droughts, hurricanes, volcanos, and floods sometimes include no system for evacuating the vulnerable population from the affected area. Sometimes even when evacuation plans are prepared they are not implemented or, worse still, the vulnerable population ignores the warnings. We had ample evidence of the latter phenomenon in the Bangladesh flood of 1988. Building codes with earthquake engineering standards in many, if not most, developing countries are as a rule, I suspect, ignored. Building codes are often ignored in developed countries. Why expect more regulatory rigor from developing countries? So much for earthquake engineering. Little research has been done on whom we train in our preparedness instruction, what they learn, how effective the training is, and how long those we train remain in relevant positions of authority. More distressing, we train people to respond to disasters after the event occurs - when the damage has already been done (except for evacuation procedures). Too many carefully done vulnerability assessments and statistical probability analyses have been carefully filed away and forgotten rather than used to affect public policy decisions before a disaster occurred. Western donors and multilateral institutions have spent money and used their technical advice on institution-building in developing countries with little to show for it. The institutions collapse without western assistance or when they continue are often dysfunctional or poorly managed - they are ineffective for the same reasons Schultze attributes to western institutions.

Schultze’s central thesis was that public policy objectives are best carried out by altering the structure of the marketplace rather than issuing regulations in the fashion of a command and control economy. Put differently, policymakers can change social behavior much more effectively by changing the incentives of the marketplace - the public use of private interest - than by threatening punishment for failure to comply with voluminous rules. Positive incentives work better than negative incentives. Indicating a policy’s desired outcome and leaving how to achieve that outcome to the economic actors will yield the best solution to public problems. The marketplace will direct economic resources to their most efficient use. This approach to policymaking allows the use of technological and managerial innovation for a single policy objective.

This model has useful applications for disaster management. The goal of disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness is to save lives and protect economic resources. One application of the Schultze model would be to build into the casualty insurance industry - for the few developing country investments covered by insurance - a strong premium differential for earthquake- and hurricane-resistant construction. We have been doing risk vulnerability studies for some time; the data should now be put to good economic use. I suspect many insurance companies in the developing world do not include disaster vulnerability data in their premium structure or in some cases simply exclude from coverage damage done to a building by a natural disaster. Much higher premiums for poorly engineered buildings and lower premiums for earthquake- and hurricane-resistant construction will act as an economic stimulus to protect a country from the effects of these sorts of disasters. Different insurance premiums would also create an incentive for retrofitting existing structures to protect them from disasters. I suspect the financing of building construction by whatever means in developing countries seldom includes risk assessment data for loan qualification. It should. Both of these approaches would require little if any regulatory intervention by the state. Both would be private market rather than command and control solutions.

These market solutions might well not provide enough of an incentive to cause actors in the marketplace to factor disaster mitigation into their planning, investment, and construction processes. Probably more economic incentives must be added to the cost of dealing with disasters before economic actors will actually change their behavior - which is what incentives are designed to do. One economic intervention developing countries might consider is a property or excise tax on new construction located in chronic flood-prone areas or near active volcanos, and on buildings that are not earthquake-or storm-resistant. The proceeds from the tax could be put into a fund to pay for retrofitting vulnerable buildings to make them more disaster-resistant.

Too many development projects seeking to mitigate environmental damage do not deal with the cause of the problem. Reforestation projects try to repair the damage done by villagers cutting trees for firewood - a practice that increases the frequency and severity of flooding, landslides, and desertification. Replanting forests is a waste of money without creating incentives to protect seedlings from further cutting or providing a fuel substitute for firewood.

The U.S. Agency for International Development initiated an agroforestry project in Haiti predicated on the assumption that for reforestation programs to succeed farm families must have economic incentives to plant and care for trees. Since benefits from planting trees are not realized for at least 18 months, the Haiti program initially provided a small subsidy to farmers to plant and care for the trees they owned and planted on their land. After a two-year period there was no longer a need for the subsidies because the farmers began benefiting from various products. Fruits, charcoal, animal feed, pesticides, and woodproducts (lumber for construction and tools) were either sold or used for domestic consumption. The net effect was that farmers saw that it was in their interest to protect and care for the trees that would otherwise have suffered the same fate as the original forests. This program made a significant impact on slowing down the deforestation of Haiti’s dwindling forest resources, and is a fine example of a marketlike disaster intervention to protect a damaged environment.

Even these reforms in our strategic approach to disasters will not reach deeply enough into the social and economic structure of a developing country to change people’s behavior. Our office is now reviewing another approach to hazard mitigation: training small contractors in simple, relatively inexpensive construction techniques to protect against earthquakes and storms. This strategy would reach what Hernando de Soto, the Peruvian businessman and economist, calls the informal sector or what economists term the black market, underground economy. De Soto’s research in Peru (1989) indicates that these contractors produced as much as 69 percent of the housing in Lima in 1985. Because of the extralegal nature of their work they are likely to be outside the financial and casualty insurance system. Training these contractors on how to increase the value of what they build without increasing their cost would increase mitigation in this structurally unintegrated portion of developing country economies. These informal contractors might begin advertising the resistance of their work to common natural disasters consumers have come to fear. Making technical information available to consumers can create a market for a product, including disaster protection. The resulting competition might well persuade unenthusiastic contractors to adopt the same building standards.

This use of marketlike incentives to encourage more energetic hazard mitigation will not work for all types of risk. I suspect that this approach must be reserved for protecting economic assets, because it will do little to protect human life. Unless some creative economist can think up a unique marketlike intervention, I do not see how early warning and evacuation systems for storms, volcanos, floods, and tsunamis can be built into the marketplace. These systems must be managed by the state as a public service. In that case we should examine early warning systems to ensure they work properly - that the technology provides timely warning of an impending disaster, that the information is quickly disseminated to the general public, that a tested evacuation plan is in place, that personnel can execute the plan, and that people respond to the evacuation order by leaving their houses. Any disconnect in any step will render the entire system inoperable. Every hypothesis used in an early warning system must be tested to see if it works. Too many lives are at risk to leave this to chance.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank must often assess the economic effects of disasters and environmental degradation. Developing countries whose economies are highly vulnerable to disasters would benefit from serious mitigation measures. The World Bank should seriously consider introducing market-based disaster mitigation conditionalities into its programs with these countries.

Many of us in the disaster response business hope the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction will help make disaster preparedness an integral part of development. This will require integrating disaster preparedness into the economic structure of developing countries. So long as this is a highly specialized, arcane discipline separate from the work of business managers, financiers, insurance actuaries, and construction superintendents it will be ineffective, misunderstood, or, worse, irrelevant.

Coastal zone management

John R. Clark

Bangladesh, St. Lucia, the Philippines, and dozens of other countries are vulnerable to serious storms and flooding. The damage from these and other hazards could be reduced through programs that control the type, density, and location of coastal settlements. It is particularly important that such programs preserve natural landforms that take the brunt of storms and thus protect lives and community structures.

Many coastlines are at high risk of damage from natural disasters - particularly death and property loss from the winds and waters of hurricanes or cyclones. These violent storms born at sea strike the coast with winds up to 200 miles per hour (mph). Tsunamis and certain types of soil liquefaction, land sinkage, and landslides are also peculiar to coastal zones. Environmental characteristics such as daily tides, mangrove forests, coral reefs, tidal flats, and barrier islands are found only at the coast. In coastal zones, critical habitats have been carelessly destroyed, ecosystem processes disrupted, and waters heavily polluted - often as a result of donor-supported coastal development.

Strategies to reduce coastal hazards should take advantage of environmental planning initiatives. Many critical ecosystems and habitats - such as coral reefs, mangroves, and sandy beaches - are also key defenses against storm damage. The United States and other countries, in efforts to build sustainable coastal societies, have begun to experiment with combining natural disaster prevention and environmental management for coastal zones in a single comprehensive, multisectoral program called “coastal area management and planning” (CAMP) or “coastal zone management” (CZM). (For details, see case studies on Sri Lanka and Mexico.)

In many densely populated nations, population growth and development projects are increasing the risk of natural disasters to inhabitants of the coastal lowlands. Coastal people become more susceptible to natural hazards such as floods, typhoons, or tsunamis when land reclamation projects encourage settlement in dangerously low-lying areas, or when land clearing and construction remove protective vegetation, reefs, or sand dunes. A particularly disastrous example is Bangladesh, where more than 300,000 people were lost in major sea storms and floods in the recent past (Wijkman and Timberlake 1984).

Reducing losses from hazards begins with preservation of coastal landforms that provide natural resistance to wave attack, flooding, and erosion from hurricanes and storms. These landforms differ significantly around the world. Human activities that remove or degrade protective landforms - for instance, by removing beach sand, weakening coral reefs, bulldozing dunes, or destroying mangrove swamps - diminish the coast’s natural protection (Clark and others 1980). Removing dunes to mine sand or to improve ocean views, for example, increases the risk to coastal development behind the former dunes. Similarly, mangroves serve to dissipate wave energy and to protect the land behind them from the erosive forces of storms. The value of these natural resources in hazard prevention reinforces the need to identify them as critical areas and give them strong protection. They also serve a unique role in coastal ecosystems.

Measures to conserve ecological resources are often the same as measures to preserve the natural landforms that serve as barriers to storms and flooding. Consequently, many communities have found that combining hazards and resource management simplifies coastal management and leads to more predictable decisions about what constitutes sustainable development.

The same setback requirement that protects beachfront settlements from erosion and storm waves, for example, could also preserve turtle nesting sites. Similarly, a zoning restriction on development of mangrove swamps would both conserve an economically valuable resource and help maintain a defense against storm waves. In a final example, a seashore or coral reef park can protect these natural landforms as both natural resources and hazard protection (Salm and Clark 1984). Well-developed CAMP programs are authorized in most U.S. coastal states by the U.S. Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (P.L. 92-583). There has also been progress toward truly integrated programs in many other countries (Sorensen and others 1984).

Because large-scale development can increase coastal hazards beyond natural levels (Hausner and Sorensen 1984), it is the responsibility of governments and the development community to see that these additional risks are controlled and cost-effectively minimized, whether from cyclonic storm (hurricane) attacks, tsunamis, shore erosion, coastal river flooding, land and mudslides, or soil liquefaction. The main risk in the coastal zone is tropical cyclones, which can equal earthquakes in potential for property damage and deaths. With rapid population growth, more people inhabit coasts, increasing the risk of damage, disturbance, and death.

Hazards and natural defenses

The short-lived but intensive winds of hurricanes and cyclones exert enormous pressure on natural and constructed systems. They drive before them rising water, known as storm surges, which can sometimes elevate water levels to 20 feet or more. A moderately intense storm (such as Hurricane Alicia, which struck Galveston, Texas, in 1983 with maximum winds of about 110 mph) can raise water levels six to 12 feet above normal.

The winds build waves on top of the storm surge. As they strike the coastline, waves can increase flood elevations as much as 55 percent over the surge level. In an open ocean, waves 40 to 60 feet high and higher have been observed by seamen and operators of offshore oil rigs. But these wave heights depend on great depths of water beneath them. (A three-foot wave needs at least four feet of water beneath it to be sustained; a six-foot wave needs eight or nine feet, and so on.) As the wave enters shallow water the sea bottom slows the submerged portion of the wave and reduces the sustainable wave height, so the wave finally breaks.

The wave’s energy is quickly dissipated as the wave strikes the coastline, beaches, dunes, vegetation, and structures built in the wave zone that absorb this energy. At the boundary of land and sea, beaches and low-lying dunes may be scoured by waves and the scoured sand washed overland hundreds of feet or deposited seaward, where shallower water acts to trip the waves. By yielding to waves, beaches are efficient dissipators of wave energy. If the sand is deposited seaward, the water depth will be decreased, causing storm waves to break farther from shore. Thus, dunes are important suppliers of sand.

When dunes are removed by sand mining or to improve ocean views, the risk to coastal developments behind the former dunes is greatly increased. Similarly, mangroves dissipate wave energy and protect the land behind them from the erosive forces of storms. Reefs, beaches, dunes, and mangroves are important natural defenses against the ravages of wave action.

Reefs also act to trip waves. The reach between the reef and the shore is often too short and shallow to permit waves to build to the heights they reached before striking the reef. So important are reefs that many countries have special reef conservation programs. Sri Lanka, for example, organized a nationwide management program to protect reefs and save its southwest shoreline (see case study).

Development management

Two guidelines that are particularly important in coastal management and planning are:

· Conserve protective features - protect as much as possible all the natural elements that protect the coast from storm surge and waves in hazardous areas. For example, prohibit sand removal, avoid mangrove clearing, and protect coral reefs. (Conservation of these protective features is administered in the same way as conservation of natural habitats.)

· Establish a coastal construction setback line. Delineate a “high hazard zone” for the coast and keep all coastal construction inland of it.

The “high-hazard zone” is that part of the coast that is periodically subject to flooding (rising still water) from storm surges and to the effects of fierce storm waves (including erosion and property damage). The periodicity of storm and flood events is calculated as the chance that a hazard event will strike in any one year. The result, often called the “recurrence rate” or “return probability,” is given as the percentage chance that an event will occur in any one-year period. Thus, a recurrence rate of 0.10 at a particular site means there is a 10 percent chance that a damaging storm will occur there in any one year.

With that information, the CZM authority can place the coastal setback at a particular risk point far enough back from the high water line that all structures behind it have only a 0.04 (4 percent) probability of being hit by a flood or storm waves. The 4 percent probability level is sometimes called a 25-year event because four chances in 100 equals one chance in 25. In placing the setback line, the CZM authority could pick the 20-, 50-, or 100-year event (0.05, 0.02, or 0.01 probability) as the controlling risk factor, and establish a corresponding distance inward from the high water line. The degree of precision needed to delineate and map the line depends on the program. The setback line is only for storm hazards. If there are also boundaries and buffer areas for essential habitat types, the two should be combined in a single setback line.

The most troublesome erosion of beaches occurs in developed areas where buildings and roadways have been placed too close to the water’s edge and are being undermined or threatened by storm-induced erosion. In such cases, the beach is often “armored” - that is, seawalls or groins are built to protect threatened properties or jetties are built to keep inlets open. But these structures are expensive and may even worsen the general erosion.

Planning approaches should reduce the damage from future disasters. Virtually any development project in a coastal area will be affected by, and will have an effect on, the risk of hazards. Roads are expensive to build but easily washed away in a flood. Roads in coastal areas should be designed not just to be safe from flood damage, but to be adequate to evacuate local populations when a severe storm is anticipated. Similarly, housing built in hazard-prone areas should be built on sites and to standards that assure personal safety.

Coastal development projects attract more people to and around a project site, increasing the number of lives and the amount of personal property in jeopardy. For many reasons, the principal city in most tropical nations is a port, and people migrate to such cities for economic potential that cannot be found upland. Development in coastal areas around the Bay of Bengal, for example, continues to stimulate enormous population growth despite recurrent cataclysmic cyclones and floods in the area.

Poorly controlled development often has destructive effects on coastal natural resources. Demands for waterfront land have been intense in many countries. Developers have encouraged and satisfied these demands and, in so doing, have frequently imposed high capital and service costs on coastal communities. Moreover, poorly planned development can be destroyed quickly and at great cost in floods, severe storms, and hurricanes (Clark and others 1980).


Fully comprehensive CZM programs aim both to prevent or mitigate natural hazards and to conserve coastal resources (Sorensen and others 1984). These two purposes are both compatible and mutually supportive. They both do the following:

· Require integrated approaches to influence where development occurs and what types of structure are built, at what density.

· Should involve all levels of government, national to local, and international cooperation when appropriate.

· Stress preservation of the natural elements - such as mangrove forests, dunefields, and coral reefs - that protect coastal populations from cyclonic winds and storm surges.

Case study: Sri Lanka

John R. Clark

The use of coastal zone management (CZM) for hazard prevention in Sri Lanka was motivated by persistent coastal erosion and storm damage caused by the mining of coral reefs along the south-west coast. Sri Lanka’s Coast Conservation Department recently completed four years of intensive work on a plan to prevent erosion and the loss and degradation of coastal natural habitats and to protect scenic areas and cultural and religious sites. The plan, developed in coordination with other Sri Lankan agencies responsible for coastal resources, represents the best reaction to the nation’s coastal problems. It provides a policy framework and a practical strategy for dealing with the problems (Olsen 1987).

For each important issue, the plan presents management strategies, which include regulation, research programs, better intergovernmental coordination, and public education. The erosion management strategy, for example, establishes a setback line to ensure that structures are not placed so close to the shoreline that they contribute to or are affected by erosion. Regulatory measures prohibit the construction of shoreline protection works in some locations and establish review procedures for building such structures along the rest of the coast. Coral and sand mining are also regulated because they accelerate coastal erosion. Other elements of the erosion management strategy are a public education campaign to make coral and sand miners aware of the impact of their activities, a program to identify alternative employment for displaced coral miners, and research to identify alternative sources of lime for the building industry. Complementing these management efforts is a public investment program to build shoreline protection works where appropriate.

Agencies responsible for the prevention and mitigation of natural hazards and agencies responsible for resource conservation and environmental protection should both be interested in advancing CZM programs.

The dual goals of CZM - conserving coastal resources and maintaining nature’s hazard protection systems - can save money, lives, and property. As growth along the coast accelerates through development, the publicly assumed liability for storm damage increases in many countries. Reversing this trend means preventing increased exposure to hazards and reducing the public assumption of liability. Prevention of natural hazards should be part of CZM planning. If no other government agency is dealing with the maintenance of natural storm defenses, CZM should be. Officials who are responsible for coastal hazards may concern themselves mostly with emergency response and postdisaster relief, ignoring the condition of coastal protective resources. That is why it is often essential for CZM to play a primary role in prevention.

Because of the link between development and disasters, an important aim of CZM is to integrate knowledge of coastal hazards and risks into planning for development. Guidelines for estimating how a project or program affects risk of coastal hazards should be applied to every development proposal. Many actions can be taken to assure that any project does not increase risk and, further, that the project can be implemented in a way that even reduces existing hazards and that is cost-effective. An example worth studying is the massive runoff from rainstorms associated with a major “El Ni148; event in 1983 that caused heavy property damage on Ecuador’s coast and disabled much of the aquaculture industry. Hazard assessment can be accomplished through CZM mechanisms for project review and environmental impact assessment (Hausner and Sorensen 1984).

Case study: Hurricane Gilbert in Yucatan, Mexico

John R. Clark

Hurricane Gilbert of 1988 was the record cyclonic storm of the Western Atlantic, with the lowest internal barometric pressure (885 mb) ever measured in the Western hemisphere. Wind speeds of more than 200 mph were recorded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aircraft flying at 10,000 feet east of the Yucatan peninsula, when the eye was eight to 10 miles in diameter. Because of a ridge of high pressure to the north, Hurricane Gilbert held to an unusual, almost straight-line, west-northwest track, rather than curving north through the straits between Yucatan and Cuba.

Gilbert reached hurricane status on September 10 and struck the Yucatan coast on the morning of September 14, with its center near Cozumel. The cyclone had broadened and wind speed had diminished so that, on arrival, the wind speed at ground level was 115-150 mph. Hurricane Gilbert then moved west-northwest across the peninsula, exiting in the vicinity of Progreso on the northwest Yucatan coast. Hurricane-force winds covered a swath of about 100 miles, rotating around an eye about 25 miles in diameter. Ocean surge heights averaged an estimated eight to 10 feet and wave heights 10 to 15 feet. Damage was extensive in the resort areas of Quintana Roo (for example, Cancun) and in rural and coastal Yucatan.

There were north winds on the front edge of Hurricane Gilbert, a prolonged calm in the eye, and southeast winds on the back edge. Damage was caused by both wind components but the north winds caused more wind, wave, and surge damage. Return flow damage across barrier islands from north coast lagoons was greater on the southeast component. Flooding occurred up to 12 miles inland in Yucatan.

Only 27 persons died (20 more were listed as missing) but 35,000 people suffered property damage - 13,000 homes in 63 towns. And losses in natural resources, habitats, and species were high. For example, as many as 3,000 to 8,000 adult flamingos were dead or missing out of a pre-Gilbert population of 20,000 to 25,000 - and 150 fledglings died. (A week after Gilbert struck we counted 16,000 survivors in an aerial survey.) An estimated 15,000 hatchling sea turtles (greens, hawksbills) were lost and three turtle hatching pens were destroyed. But the most serious effects on the north Yucatan coastal ecosystem were from 21 cuts through the barrier island strand into the estuaries - including cuts in Rio Lagartos. The Rio Lagartos cuts have serious implications because that hypersaline river provides the only nesting environment and a favored feeding area for the Yucatan population of flamingos.

After Hurricane Gilbert passed, leaving Rio Lagartos open to the sea’s entry, salinity dropped dramatically. The Industria Salinera salt works - Los Colorados’ main industry on Rio Lagartos - was put out of commission for nearly two years because of the drop in salinity, nearly total destruction of the charcos (salt pans), the destruction of infrastructure and roads, and the demolition of mills, warehouses, and pumps.

High winds destroyed the important lumber industry in Colonia Yucatan, leaving many jobless. Losses to the fishing industry varied. Because of a well-organized predisaster program - all persons were evacuated from the coast and most small boats were hauled ashore or put in safe harbor - small-scale fisheries sustained little damage and within seven days 90 percent of the boats were ready to operate. But the port of Progreso/Yucalpeten, with larger craft, sustained serious losses: 200 boats were damaged altogether, and 85 boats driven aground in the harbor required major salvage operations (about $10,000 each).

Agriculture also suffered. Half of the area’s 3 million chickens were killed, and 100,000 beehives were destroyed, for a loss of 3,500 tons of honey valued at about US$3 million. The corn crop loss was estimated at about 95 percent of the total planting of 150,000 hectares. There were also extensive losses in fruit, sorghum, rice, and beans.

Perhaps the worst economic effect was a midterm loss in tourism revenues in areas such as Cancun and Cozumel. Almost all tourist reservations at Cancun were canceled - most with refunds. It took two to 20 months to rebuild the hotels and resorts. The power and telephone systems were heavily damaged. The beaches at Cancun lost an average two meters deep of sand, with no practical way to restore them other than to wait for natural processes to act. Sixty percent of corals were detached from reef strongholds. Ninety percent of mangroves were destroyed. It may take several more years to restore operations and regain tourist confidence.

Disaster insurance in New Zealand

L.B. Falck

New Zealand, recognizing that its economy could not absorb the heavy financial losses from a major disaster, reviewed its national system for insuring the public against disaster. Its national insurance commission has sought the maximum reinsurance protection the world market could provide and has considered ways to minimize the government’s contingent liability. New Zealand is not alone in understanding the need for a government-backed fund for disaster relief. As reinsurance pools shrink, international financial institutions such as the World Bank may be called upon to provide an underwriting facility that offers reinsurance at either a discount or an “average” cost.

New Zealand, which lies on the “Pacific Rim of Fire,” faces seismic hazards similar to those in Japan and California. But New Zealand, a small country with a small population, does not have the economic resources to withstand severe natural disasters. New Zealanders are fortunate that river floods tend to be localized events and that severe windstorms (tropical cyclones) have generally exhausted their energy before moving past New Zealand.

Earthquake is the most severe hazard the population faces. Each year about 800 are registered and between 150 and 200 felt. Typically one or two are of magnitudes above 6 on the Richter scale, 10 to 20 of magnitudes between 5 and 6, and the rest smaller (Seismological Observatory Bulletin 1983). A glance at any map of seismic events in New Zealand shows that no region is really safe from earthquakes. The need for mitigation measures is a concern to both government and the private disaster insurance industry.

The New Zealand Earthquake and War Damage Commission was established by statute in 1944 as a government agency with responsibility for the financial mitigation of losses from earthquake-related events. Speaking to the New Zealand Parliament, the then Minister of Finance Walter Nash (New Zealand National Society for Earthquake Engineering 1984) said that the endeavour had been to “work out a principle under which the whole loss is deemed to be a national loss, and under which those people who might be affected will subscribe towards a fund to meet losses which may come to any of them.” He added that “if the common fund is insufficient to meet the lawful claims thereon, the Minister of Finance shall, without further appropriation than this Act, pay such sums out of the Consolidated Fund as may be necessary to meet the deficiency.... this in effect is the guarantee behind this fund.” This act put into effect a nationwide insurance scheme that has provided for such losses since 1944.

Under that legislation, rates were determined by the government under delegated regulatory powers. (The initial rate of 5 cents per $100 indemnity-insured value continues to this day.) Private insurers, as agents of the commission, would collect premiums. Under these arrangements the commission was unable to identify its insured until a particular company lodged a claim and declaration of insurance. Property was insured for material damage to indemnity (current market) value only. (Insurance companies were permitted to provide “top up” replacement policies.) The New Zealand Government would indemnify the commission through loans for any deficiency in meeting its lawful claims. Any insurance policy with fire coverage immediately attracted earthquake and war damage coverage.

Since its inception the commission has built up a reserve of nearly $2 billion (New Zealand dollars). Revenues from annual premiums were $91 million at the end of fiscal 1989. In addition, the commission has reinsurance of $1 billion for a catastrophic earthquake (New Zealand Earthquake and War Damage Commission 1989a).

The effect of heavy losses

In 1987 a shallow earthquake of 6.3 on the Richter scale struck the area known as the Bay of Plenty, causing severe damage to domestic and commercial property. Losses for the commission, insurance companies, and government agencies were initially estimated as follows (in New Zealand dollars):

$ million

Earthquake and War Damage Commission


Private insurance companies (including losses from interrupted business)




Unsecured losses (both domestic and commercial)


Total estimated losses


These losses were a shock, coming as they did in an area of low population density and poorly maintained housing stock. And domestic policy losses were disproportionate. Five thousand domestic claims cost the commission $20 million, and 10 commercial claims resulted in a payout of about $120 million. Over the many years the scheme had been working, inequities and inflation had distorted the basic purpose of the earthquake scheme.

Such heavy losses also caused concern about what would happen if a major loss occurred in one of New Zealand’s major population centers. Wellington, the capital city, lies astride the main active fault line. The last major earthquake there (in 1855) is estimated to have exceeded 8 on the Richter scale. Auckland, the main population center and New Zealand’s commercial capital, is situated on and near more than 60 dormant volcanos - the last of which erupted in the seventeenth century. New Zealand’s largest lake (Taupo) is also a dormant volcano which has the unfortunate habit of erupting explosively and ejecting the contents of the lake and the surrounding district 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) into the atmosphere.

If disasters were to happen in these areas, the New Zealand economy would be sorely pressed to cope with the financial repercussions. Confidential government studies showed that the current and future tax base would be unlikely to generate enough revenue to meet loan demands for needed reconstruction and rehabilitation, and the commission and private sector insurers would probably go bankrupt. So the New Zealand Government launched a review of how the commission and the disaster insurance industry function.

The review found that New Zealand’s economy could not absorb large financial losses as easily as the United States could. The California earthquake strained U.S. resources, but California and the federal government could cope with the situation without seriously jeopardizing the economic well-being of the rest of the country. New Zealand is not so resilient. The review identified the following problems in the current arrangements:

· The Commission, as a public service department, had not developed management and reporting structures that ensure efficient operations. For one thing, it had inadequate financial and accounting procedures. It has paid little attention to advances in information and telecommunications technologies in disaster and claims management. It has put little effort into promoting a corporate role for the commission.

· The composition of the Board was inappropriate, so the commission was too easily influenced by the government of the day. Clear rules had not been established for communication between the commission board and government ministers.

· The investment policies conducted by the New Zealand Treasury on the commission’s behalf were inadequate and took little account of the commission’s risk status.

· In the event of catastrophe, the current indemnification arrangements between the commission and the government were likely to place a debt burden on the commission that would cripple its operations and saddle it with debt far into the future. And the lack of reinsurance arrangements meant that the commission’s capital assets were totally exposed in the event of a disaster.

· The commission had not promoted and funded earthquake-related research. Among other things, there was an urgent need to review the position of other insurers in the market and their ability to meet large claims. And research was needed to determine agreed-upon estimated maximum loss figures for the government, the commission, and private insurers.

· The government had not reviewed its policy and management options for contingent liabilities in the event of a major disaster. Little attention had been paid to ensuring that there were effective economic contingency plans for dealing with such an emergency. And war coverage was inappropriate (New Zealand National Society for Earthquake Engineering 1984).

Agenda for reform

The board and government had a big agenda for reform and restructuring. The government decided it was appropriate to address these issues in two distinct phases: first, the complete restructuring and refocusing of the commission’s operation; second, comprehensive examination of the regulatory environment and industry operations as a whole. After consultation with the commission board and private sector interests, the government introduced permissive restructuring legislation that provided a new management structure for the commission (New Zealand House of Representatives 1988).

The government instituted the following changes by statute:

(1) The commission was reconstituted as an independent statutory corporation with the Crown of New Zealand as the sole shareholder. The minister of finance was invested with the rights of shareholder on behalf of the Crown. The commission now had the powers and opportunities available to corporations.

(2) The board was restructured, the minister of finance was no longer chairman, and the number of board members was increased to nine. This removed the last vestiges of political influence over the commission’s affairs.

(3) The commission’s financial assets were firmly vested in the commission and removed from Treasury control. Treasury now acted solely as agent for the board’s investments.

(4) The guarantee provisions of the 1944 legislation were revoked and the government assumed the role of “underwriter of last resort,” whereby in exchange for an agreed-upon premium the government undertook to grant to the commission such sums as it needed to meet its claims liabilities. This premium was loaded to encourage the commission board to seek reinsurance in the private world market.

(5) The government required the commission to adhere to the management, accountability, and reporting rules set out in the State Owned Enterprises Act (New Zealand House of Representatives 1986). These rules placed the commission’s management on the same basis as private companies (see appendix 1). To assure a level playing field, the commission was required to pay the same dividend and tax as other insurers.

Meanwhile, as a transitional provision, the government retained the right to set premium levels and to direct commission policy - requiring that when the minister directed the commission, such directives were to be in writing and published in the commission’s annual report. Since October 1988 the board has received only one such directive, about management of the commission’s financial assets (New Zealand Earthquake and War Damage Commission 1989b).

Once these amendments were enacted the commission considered its internal operations. The board rapidly refocused the management structure to give it a commercial ethos, balance sheet operation, and comprehensive claims management procedures. The board’s main concern was the lack of reinsurance. Under the previous statute, successive governments had resisted reinsurance because some people in government believed reinsurance would distort New Zealand’s foreign exchange market. This problem disappeared when the government floated the New Zealand dollar and gave the commission independent control of its financial resources.

New emphasis on reinsurance

The board moved with alacrity to establish a reinsurance program. With the help of three specialist reinsurance brokers it sought the maximum protection the world market could provide. After intensive negotiations the commission purchased a heavy layer of catastrophe protection: $1 billion in excess of $l billion - the largest program of this kind in the world. 1 (Purchasing reinsurance of this magnitude allowed the commissioner to negotiate a lower market premium for such reinsurance than is usually available to private insurance companies.) This purchase of capital protection radically altered the commission’s ability to withstand losses, providing a guaranteed influx of funds should a disaster occur. The effects of such an influx of offshore currency funding is currently being carefully modeled by the Reserve Bank (New Zealand’s central bank), to ensure that when the inevitable occurs the Bank has suitable contingency plans to prevent rapid hyperinflation and associated effects.

The second phase of restructuring has been to examine New Zealand’s natural disaster underwriting industry and to consider ways to minimize the government’s contingent liability. Several proposals are being introduced or considered. They include:

· Making earthquake insurance compulsory for all domestic householders (whether or not their property is insured for fire) and not requiring that commercial property be insured.

· Deregulating the market. This would permit private companies to compete with the commission in all market sectors, thus ending the commission’s monopoly, facilitating the introduction of further capacity, and diversifying industry risk. Deregulation would also inevitably reduce the government liability, currently focused through the commission.

· Reducing Crown indemnity by requiring government departments, corporations, and agencies (such as schools and hospitals) to obtain suitable private insurance, financed through their operating budgets.

· Reducing assistance to local and municipal authorities by requiring them to take out adequate protection against disaster.

· Discouraging charity and government aid packages that provide more than immediate postdisaster relief assistance. In previous disasters uninsured property owners have had a comparative advantage over the insured, who had prudently paid premiums over the years. The uninsured have inevitably been helped in rehabilitation by the mayor’s, government’s, or private relief aid packages (New Zealand Government 1988).

Related policies will permit the commission to determine its premium rates on the basis of the risk profile (without government concurrence) and to devise an investment strategy that ensures that existing financial assets are placed offshore in a portfolio that ensures maximum growth yet provides access to extensive foreign currency reserves in time of need. The commission will also try to establish relationships with international banking agencies so it can eventually establish lines of credit and access to standby foreign currency borrowing facilities.

Worldwide implications

New Zealand is not alone in understanding the need for a government-backed fund for disaster relief. It is important to compare the New Zealand disaster insurance model with other similar disaster mitigation schemes operating elsewhere in the world. France, for example - where the major potential disasters are flooding and windstorms - passed a law in 1982 guaranteeing that all French citizens (including those in obviously risky areas) could obtain catastrophe coverage. Citizens pay an additional premium to insurance companies who then reinsure with the state-owned reinsurance company, CCR. Storms in October 1987 highlighted the value of this coverage. Up to half of the claims fell under the law’s auspices. Iceland, a nation whose seismic hazards are similar to those New Zealand faces and whose economic infrastructure is equally fragile, recently established a scheme for disaster underwriting modeled on New Zealand’s current scheme. The Japanese Government, jointly with all Japanese non-life-insurance companies, is setting up a fund and layers of reinsurance to ensure that funds are available to cover homeowners for earthquake insurance. All homeowner earthquake coverage provided by domestic and foreign insurers is wholly reinsured with the Japanese Earthquake Reinsurance Co. Ltd. (JER).

In the United States, there is currently no such government-backed disaster fund. But the U.S. insurance industry is pressing the federal government to take on up to $50-$60 billion (U.S. dollars) of earthquake risk in return for premiums that would build up the fund (the Earthquake Project). The total net worth of the U.S. insurance industry is about $134 billion. The industry would face irreparable damage if it had to make a $60 billion payment in the event of a major earthquake in Los Angeles. The Earthquake Project is basically a reinsurance program for which the federal government would assume most of the risk until a fund has been built up from premiums. This proposal is likely to go ahead, after the federal government completes its own research into the industry and calculates probable maximum losses. The government will probably require that a damage mitigation program be put in place as there would otherwise be no incentive to reduce risk (Price Waterhouse of New Zealand 1990).

The common purpose of all these schemes is to guarantee that insured domestic property owners are protected in the event of a severe natural disaster. Naturally they differ in philosophy, application, and underwriting risks but all propose a relationship between the government and the commercial insurance sector aimed at maximum mitigation of economic loss to citizens. All schemes also accept the basic tenet that such arrangements will not work without the government’s active and willing participation.

There would be nothing to prevent a group of small nations from jointly establishing a disaster underwriting agency and introducing - through an agreed-upon, uniformly compulsory regime - a scheme to provide basic disaster insurance for homeowners. Such a scheme is being considered by a group of small South Pacific island nations. In the past few years these nations have suffered severe economic dislocation from tropical cyclones - the latest example being the cyclone that devastated both Western and Eastern Samoa in 1989. The suggestion is that each participating nation take out a share (proportionate to its population) in the underwriting agency and commence building up reserves and reinsurance to protect against future losses. To effectively manage the loss, the agency would be given an initial “no-liability” period in which to build up a reserve fund and obtain reinsurance. In addition, it has been suggested that in future part of disaster aid could be financial help in meeting underwriting losses. It is important that the scheme make insurance of domestic dwellings compulsory and that some form of statutory authority be available to enforce this requirement. A similar scheme could provide some relief to the economies of the Caribbean nations that face the devastating effects of the hurricanes that pass regularly through the Caribbean.

All these schemes are predicated on the willing participation of commercial reinsurers. Their capacity to underwrite huge losses obviously depends on the extent of their asset bases and their own success in obtaining reinsurance. 2 Potential customers of the reinsurers must always be aware that market capacity depends upon the current loss ratio the market faces collectively. In March 1990 the loss ratio London underwriters faced was about 550 percent after the British and European windstorms. As a result of these losses, together with all the other major losses reinsurers have faced in the last two years - Piper Alpha, Hurricane Hugo, San Francisco, Newcastle, and so on - the market is hardening and, more alarming, capacity is being withdrawn from the world pool. Premiums are rapidly increasing as reinsurers seek to generate revenue to offset what for many of them is currently a negative cash position.

Major international financial institutions could help underdeveloped countries by providing an underwriting facility that offers reinsurance at either a discount or an “average” cost. This would enable developing nations to establish disaster underwriting mechanisms that would not only alleviate distress but also mitigate the large injections of financial aid that are generally needed when these events occur. Through such arrangements the aid organizations could better provide planned assistance.

Governments can manage the economic effects of natural catastrophes or disasters effectively if institutions exist that have both the capability and the financial independence to manage the aftermath of these inevitable events.


1. One billion New Zealand dollars was the equivalent of US$620 million. Participation in the commission’s program has been as follows:

Lloyd’s Underwriters


London companies


European companies


Australian companies


U.S. companies




Asian companies


The New Zealand Earthquake and War Damage Commission provides only for catastrophic disaster. It does not cover such gradual events as New Zealand’s possible inundation (if the southern icecap melts) or the medical effects associated with the thinning of the ozone layer. According to New Zealand scientists, if a slab of ice the size of France broke off, sea level worldwide would rise one meter. If the entire ice cap slides off, sea level would rise 40 meters.

2. Reinsurance of reinsurers is facilitated through underwriters commonly known as retrocessionaires. Usually several layers of such reinsurance underwrite any primary reinsurers; the subsequent payment of claims is called the “Lloyd’s Spiral.”

Appendix 1 - Extract from New Zealand’s State Owned Enterprises Act Accountability provisions



14. Statement of Corporate Intent - (1) The board of every State enterprise shall deliver to the Shareholding Minister a draft statement of corporate intent not later than 1 month after the commencement of each financial year of the State enterprise.

(2) Each statement of corporate intent shall specify for the group comprising the State enterprise and its subsidiaries (if any), and in respect of the financial year in which it is delivered and each of the immediately following 2 financial years, the following information:

(a) The objectives of the group;

(b) The nature and scope of the activities to be undertaken;

(c) The ratio of consolidated shareholders’ funds to total assets, and definition of those terms;

(d) The accounting policies;

(e) The performance targets and other measures by which the performance of the group may be judged in relation to its objectives;

(f) An estimate of the amount or proportion of accumulated profits and capital reserves that is intended to be distributed to the Crown;

(g) The kind of information to be provided to the shareholding Minister by the State enterprise during the course of those financial years, including the information to be included in each half yearly report;

(h) The procedures to be followed before any member of the group subscribes for, purchases, or otherwise acquires shares in any company or other organisation;

(i) Any activities for which the board seeks compensation from the Crown (whether or not the Crown has agreed to provide such compensation);

(j) The board’s estimate of the commercial value of the Crown’s investment in the Group and the manner in which, and the times at which, this value is to be reassessed;

(k) Any other matters as are agreed by the shareholding Minister and the board.

Case study: reconstruction after North China’s earthquake

Alcira Kreimer, Edward Echeverria, and Martha Preece

The North China Earthquake Reconstruction Project emphasized community participation, cultural traditions, and government commitment. Damaged dwellings were replaced by improved housing based on local architectural styles, layout, and construction methods. Project leaders worked closely with community leaders in planning and implementation, thus paving the way for sustainable improvement. By strengthening the ability of institutions in disaster-prone areas to deal with risk reduction, mitigation, and rehabilitation, the project is reducing the vulnerability to disaster of human settlements and capital investments. A strength of the program is the central and local governments’ commitment to allocating resources to prevention and mitigation efforts that are seen as essential to national development goals.

In 1989, 30 quakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or above hit the Chinese mainland in Datong-Yanggao. On October 18 that year, five earthquakes registering more than 5.0 on the Richter scale swayed part of Northern China, the peak shock measuring 6.1. Strong aftershocks followed on October 23. Housing, hospitals, schools, and small-scale industry were damaged extensively, as were telecommunications, water supplies, and electric power. This was one of the worst earthquake catastrophes to hit the region since 1976, when a quake registering 7.8 killed more than 400,000 people and destroyed the city of Tangshan in Hebei province. The heaviest damage of the 1989 earthquake in Datong-Yanggao occurred in the impoverished rural Bu Cun Village located on a windswept, eroded plain about 1,300 meters above sea level; it was almost totally destroyed. Casualties were slight (20 dead and fewer than 200 seriously injured) because of earlier, less severe warning quakes and prompt evacuation action by local officials. No major urban areas were significantly affected, partly because of their distance from the epicenter and partly because of the greater resilience of urban buildings. But rural areas are vulnerable to natural hazards, mostly because of inappropriate building techniques and materials. Poorly built houses - made mostly of mud-brick and stone and certainly not designed to be earthquake-resistant - offer no resistance to the devastating effects of the shock waves. Even the public buildings and factories, made of better quality materials at higher standards, succumbed to the Datong-Yanggao earthquake.

The region’s main economic activities are coal mining and agriculture (mainly subsistence crops). The destruction of many economic and social facilities has wrecked the fragile local economy. The heaviest damage was to physical infrastructure and buildings: some 25,000 houses and more than 3,000 rooms in schools, clinics, and community facilities were destroyed, and 46 local industries were devastated. Direct losses were estimated to be more than US$150 million, and about US$15 million in indirect production losses - mainly in industry and commerce - were expected the first year. About 150,000 people were rendered homeless, their barns and stables destroyed and their stored winter food and animal feed lost. Nearly 1,500 workers lost their jobs. By early December 1989, 32,000 families (about 15 percent of the region’s population) were in temporary shelter, improvised in either the same damaged, structurally impaired homes with some minor repairs, or in small, excavated mud rooms. National and local agencies had difficulty accommodating overwhelming demands on institutions, particularly for the fast, efficient restoration of basic infrastructure and housing and production facilities. Post-earthquake needs required enormous financial resources. Funds from national and local budgets were needed for reconstruction and for irrigation and water supply works. Countries made financing for construction of schools, clinics, and other community facilities available as grants. More funding came from private donations, insurance refunds, and local revenues.

China is disaster-prone. Sixty percent of its land area is in seismic zones vulnerable to earthquakes registering more than 6.0, and 70 percent of metropolitan areas with populations of more than 1 million are in seismic zones vulnerable to quakes registering over 7.0 on the Richter scale. China has experienced some of the most severe recorded earthquakes in the world. Since 1900, it has had 662 earthquakes registering more than 6.0 on the Richter scale, 106 of them registering more than 7.0 (about 30 percent of the world’s earthquakes are above that intensity). The death toll from earthquakes in China in the twentieth century alone exceeds 600,000 (50 percent of the world total). And seismic risk analysis in China indicates that after a decade of relative calm, the country is entering a period of heavy seismic activity that is expected to last 12 to 15 years. (For details on disaster reduction in China see box by Chen Hong.)

Disaster preparedness and emergency response. China has a long history of research in forecasting earthquakes. Since 1966, Chinese scientists have made detailed observations of the activities that precede earthquakes. Observations and analysis have been used to develop a methodology for predicting earthquakes far in advance (10 to 20 years) or imminent (in two to 12 days). The research and analysis procedures were formalized with the establishment of the Center for Analysis of Prediction (CAP) under the State Seismological Bureau. The center’s ultimate goal is to reduce loss of life and property from earthquakes through disaster preparedness and mitigation. But now the seismological monitoring network provides only partial coverage of China’s vast territory because of limited data.

The authorities responded rapidly to emergency needs after the October 18 earthquake. Immediate investigation of earthquake damage was organized by the various departments of the Ministry of Construction. The prefecture had a plan to speed up emergency assistance for the affected villages, including the temporary restoration of homes, stored foodcrops, and production capabilities until housing and agricultural storage could be permanently restored. Relief efforts were coordinated by prefectural and county civil affairs offices and supported by nongovernment groups and modest international aid. The recovery activities involved detailed planning for the reconstruction and repair of villages and affected assets, including the restoration of electricity in most village centers.

Reconstruction as prevention and mitigation

The disruption of the local economy and its effects on development prompted the government to ask the World Bank for assistance in normalizing economic activity through reconstruction operations in Yanbei Prefecture of Shanxi province and Yangyuan County in Hebei province. Reconstruction planning was undertaken with the support of a provincial task force from the architectural, engineering, and town planning institutes, advised by experts from the Ministry of Construction and the State Seismological Bureau.

The International Development Association’s (IDA’s) involvement in this project is in line with its primary mission in emergency recovery assistance: restoring productivity and promoting disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness. The emergency recovery project was designed to prevent similar disasters from occurring in the future. It includes: (a) a component for rebuilding rural infrastructure, housing, education, health, and industry in about 150 villages, and (b) a national component for institutional development and technical assistance that gives maximum support to existing institutions’ efforts at earthquake prediction and disaster preparedness in China.

The reconstruction plan was based on rehabilitation options that varied based on degree of damage and prospects for cost recovery. Repair and reinforcement will take priority wherever possible, but reconstruction will be carried out where damage and needs are extreme and where reconstruction is affordable. Existing buildings, even those with little damage, are to be reinforced so they are more seismic-resilient. All new structures must conform to the seismic requirements of state building codes and to affordability criteria and will be built using traditional and modern materials and construction methods. Financing has been provided for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of schools, health posts, community offices, stores, and small-scale agricultural processing facilities. An enterprise rehabilitation component financed building repairs to restore a limited number of rural enterprises to their original capacity. The project also provides for the rehabilitation of such basic infrastructure as roads and paths, drains, water supplies, and sanitary facilities. All reconstruction of major buildings is being carried out to national design standards and codes.

Case study: disaster reduction in China

Chen Hong

The Chinese people have a long history of struggling against natural disasters. A vast territory with a complex climate and geography, China is beset every year with drought, floods, windstorms, earthquakes, mudflows, plant diseases, and infestations of insect pests. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has averaged 7.7 droughts, 5.8 floods, and 7 typhoons a year. Drought, floods, and earthquakes are the most destructive. Since the turn of the century, China has experienced over 2,600 destructive earthquakes, more than 500 of them registering above 6 and nine of them above 8 on the Richter scale. These earthquakes have killed 270,000 people and injured 220,000. Mudflows and landslides threaten hundreds of small and medium-sized cities and China’s 1,800-kilometer coastline will be highly susceptible to rising sea levels, should the threatened greenhouse effect materialize. In addition, soil erosion, degradation of the land, and environmental pollution are increasingly severe.

In an ordinary year, natural disasters damage roughly 20 million hectares of agricultural land, causing the loss of 20 billion kilograms of grain. This - together with the collapse of 3 million rooms and losses in other sectors - causes direct annual economic losses of about 50 billion yuan RMB (US$10 billion). Each year, natural disasters kill thousands and affect more than 200 million people.

China’s countermeasures against disaster

China’s government has focused heavily on reducing natural disasters, holding as its first priority disaster prevention combined with relief operations. Its achievements include the following:

· Bringing big rivers under control. In the past 40 years, the government has invested about 80 billion yuan in large-scale engineering works to control and exploit rivers by building and consolidating dikes and dams, building flood storage and discharge areas and reservoirs, and dredging waterways to the sea. The Yellow River - known as “China’s suffering” in the past - hasn’t burst or changed its course in more than 40 years. The main cities on the Huai, Hiehe, and Liao rivers are able to control the major floods that occur once in 100 years and have been able to prevent the big floods that tend to occur every 20 to 50 years.

· Strengthening construction against damage from typhoons, floods, and earthquakes. Embankments have been built and housing elevated to prevent flood damage in low-lying, flood-prone areas. Earth and straw houses have been replaced with brick constructions in southeastern coastal areas subject to storms and typhoons. New buildings must be earthquake-resistant. Flood-diversion and storage areas have been built along the banks of great rivers, and manpower from all walks of life is mobilized to control floods and to move people and property to safety when floods come. After floods and typhoons recede, engineers rush to repair such lifelines as highways, railways, and communication lines.

· Building irrigation works. In drought areas, wells and ditches have been dug to increase irrigation. In flood areas, dikes and dams have been built to drain waterways, and salted low-lying areas have been reformed.

· Planting trees to prevent soil erosion and sandstorms. It is national policy to cover the country with trees; March 12 is national tree planting day. After nearly 40 years’ efforts, forests now cover 12 percent of China, up from 6 percent in 1949. Two long shelter belts have been formed: one, 7,000 kilometers long, protects 12 provinces and autonomous regions in north China; the other provides windbreaks against typhoons in coastal areas.

· Improving disaster prediction and warning capabilities. China has set up 2,700 meteorological stations, applying advanced science and technology to improve the accuracy of weather forecasts. An earthquake monitoring system - a network of professionals and nonprofessionals - has been established in the main seismic areas. China has also established a National Forecasting Station for plant diseases and pests, drawing on the work of 2,000 scattered substations.

· Formulating and promulgating appropriate laws and regulations. Laws have been passed to improve forestry, wildfire control, environmental protection, urban planning, the control of forestry diseases and insect pests, and the use of land, water, and grasslands.

Recovery and rehabilitation

Every year the government helps about 3 million victims of disaster recover their ability to earn a living, restore production, and rebuild their homeland, encouraging a spirit of self-reliance and mutual support in times of difficulty. China encourages victims to help themselves through individual efforts to maintain productive sidelines; through collective management of enterprises (roughly 45,000 enterprises provide jobs to victims of disaster); and through relief work, without which victims receive no relief assistance.

Since 1985, China has been trying to launch disaster relief insurance, which it considers an effective tool for disaster relief in a poor economy. China also encourages mutual assistance - through voluntary aid and donations between families, villages, and prefectures. In savings associations and grain associations, village farmers who contribute savings or grain may borrow grain from the association in times of need. This practice is particularly important in inaccessible mountain regions. There are about 200,000 savings and grain associations in China.

China has also encouraged international cooperation on disaster mitigation projects and the mutual exchange of information and experience. China has received disaster relief assistance from foreign governments and international organizations, which have helped both in rehabilitation and in providing ways to make a living.

Disaster management

China’s central government is responsible for decisionmaking and command, and handles prevention activities and relief. Headquarters for flood and drought control and forest fire prevention are subordinate to the central government. Local governments are in charge of organizing and directing disaster work within their administrative division. Manpower, tools, machinery, and materials needed for disaster prevention, fighting, and relief are strictly allocated within the region, as is support from higher levels or other regions.

The People’s Liberation Army is the main force against disaster. The People’s army contributes significantly to project construction, flood control, resettling victims, providing medical services, repairing lifeline projects, and helping victims restore production and rebuild their homeland.

China’s disaster reduction strategy

In response to the UN proposal for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, China has developed a strategy for disaster reduction that emphasizes:

· Conducting scientific research on relevant problems, with a view to harnessing the destructive force of natural disasters and converting it to energy that benefits mankind.

· Developing practical applications for scientific knowledge. (Generally speaking, China’s level of scientific research about disasters is low, with some exceptions.)

· Establishing a national system for predicting and issuing warnings of disaster.

· Building major disaster-reducing engineering works, as the national economy develops.

· Using mass media to improve national awareness of ways to reduce natural disasters and to provide training in basic disaster reduction skills.

· Improving international cooperation and the exchange of information and ideas to combat humanity’s common enemies.

The project emphasized community participation by consulting with village communities to determine the scope of reconstruction possible given applicable cost ceilings and using local labor equivalent to about 25 to 30 percent of building costs. Government project teams visited each community to work out with villagers and their leaders the community’s highest-priority investments in light of the available budget and schedule for reconstruction and repair, and to help organize the community’s labor input. These teams also helped supervise the reconstruction process and helped villages invite bids for the rehabilitation of public buildings and infrastructure.

The national component included provisions geared to reducing vulnerability through earthquake prediction and emergency preparedness. This component emphasized institutional support to improve the State Seismological Bureau’s (SSB’s) network of earthquake monitoring stations in areas identified as being high in seismic risk (Sichuan, the capital region, and Yunnan) and to reinforce satellite communication and computer equipment at SSB’s Beijing headquarters. Shanxi province also drew up an emergency preparedness plan for Yanbei Prefecture for earthquakes and other natural disasters and emergencies - such as large chemical spills, the disruption of urban water supplies, and collapsing buildings - a pilot effort at the prefecture level to be replicated elsewhere in the country. The project agreement also called for immediate, on-the-spot investigation of earthquake damage.

Human and social factors

The North China Earthquake Reconstruction Project emphasized three key elements of reconstruction: community participation, cultural traditions, and government commitment. Project design gave special attention to human and social factors. It provides opportunities for local participation and preserves local traditions by maintaining village identity and avoiding unnecessary relocation. Destroyed or damaged dwellings are replaced by improved housing based on local architectural styles and village layout and construction methods. By selecting simple, cost-effective building techniques and structures that use local building materials, the project ensures the rapid rehabilitation of permanent dwellings at the same time that it strengthens local capabilities for housing reconstruction. And by working closely with community leaders in planning and implementation it paves the way for a successful action program.

Because of China’s vulnerability to natural hazards, central and local governments are strongly committed to preventing and mitigating losses from natural disasters. The Ministry of Construction has drawn up a program of studies and research into earthquake damage mitigation for its Earthquake Resistance Bureau. It includes:

· Techniques for strengthening the earthquake-resistance of existing buildings and life-line structures (traditional rural housing, high-rise apartment buildings, and hospitals).

· Earthquake vulnerability assessments for key cities.

· Case studies of earthquake reconstruction experience.

· Staff training in modern design and construction techniques.

Strategies and policies have been formulated to bring natural disaster reduction programs into the strategic plans for national economic and social development. By strengthening the ability of institutions in disaster-prone areas to deal with risk reduction, mitigation, and rehabilitation, the project is reducing the vulnerability of human settlements and capital investment to seismic events.

Case study: Nepal Municipal Development and Earthquake Reconstruction Project

Alcira Kreimer and Martha Preece

The Nepal Municipal Development and Earthquake Reconstruction Project emphasized the disaster-resistant reconstruction of housing and schools, the adoption of improved building techniques, and the development of building codes. It also stressed the need for vulnerability analysis through hazard mapping and the establishment of a centralized data bank. Community participation was central to Nepal’s strategy for disaster prevention and mitigation. Self-help housing reconstruction moved along quickly because there were few land tenure problems and most homes were owner-occupied. The reconstruction experience is expected to demonstrate the feasibility of low-cost housing solutions so banks will be encouraged to embark on a full home financing system.

The effects of disasters can in large part be traced to poor planning, inappropriate design, faulty construction, lack of maintenance, and the effects of poverty. Direct and indirect losses and institutional demands are often the result of inappropriate or no preventive measures, compounded by years of neglected maintenance and reduced public and private investment. Prevention and mitigation policies and programs can reduce social vulnerability. Earthquakes exert enormous pressures on public finances, reducing public revenues on the one hand and increasing public spending on the other. After a calamity, a rapid response is required not only for relief activities but also to reduce the vulnerability of human settlements and capital investment to seismic events.


Nepal is among the world’s poorest countries. Life expectancy at birth is 54 years for males and 51 for females. The infant mortality rate is 111 per 1,000. More than 40 percent of the population (18 million people) live below the poverty line. More than 90 percent of the Nepalese live in small towns or in the remote countryside.

National economic policy in Nepal emphasizes development of the rural sector, but urban areas are growing rapidly. New and improved roads, together with limited farm employment opportunities, have encouraged rural migration to urban areas. The number of urban settlers is expected to grow at least 4 percent a year. Towns play a key role in Nepal’s economic growth. They not only absorb much of the surplus rural labor, but also provide essential services for the rural economy. Managing rather than constraining urban growth will be a major challenge. More than 90 percent of homes are said to be owner-occupied but pressure on the housing stock because of rural-to-urban migration is upsetting home-ownership ratios. There has been no planning and control for the growth of cities. Many landless people have become squatters on marginal, disaster-prone lands. Services and basic infrastructure are constrained by limited institutional and managerial capabilities and scarce financial resources, both central and local.

Nepal’s vulnerability to earthquakes

Sixty-eight percent of Nepal’s land area is mountainous and exposed to heavy seismic activity. Earthquakes that register 5 to 8 on the Richter scale are experienced throughout the country; 279 earthquakes with epicenters in Nepal and magnitudes above 3.9 were recorded between 1963 and 1986 (Asian Institute of Technology 1990).

After an earthquake measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale struck parts of central and eastern Nepal on August 21, 1988, it was difficult to assess damages and assist victims. Although the tremor lasted only 30 seconds, more than 720 people died, over 6,000 were injured, and housing, schools, hospitals, public buildings, roads, and bridges were extensively damaged. In the months after the earthquake, helicopter surveys identified about 66,000 damaged or destroyed homesites; an estimated 460,000 persons were without shelter. More than 2,000 schools (about 17 percent of all educational facilities) were ruined beyond repair and more than 300 required extensive rehabilitation. Other public buildings were also ruined. The total direct cost of destruction was US$172 million. The greatest losses were to housing (US$78 million), roads and bridges (US$62.4 million), and schools (US$32 million).

Despite the earthquake’s relatively low intensity, there was widespread devastation because of the region’s vulnerability. Nepal lies in a tectonically active zone, but does not enforce earthquake-resistant construction measures and has no seismic maps. Before 1988, there was no building code for low-cost and nonengineered building construction, and no appropriate zoning and land-use policies and regulations. Not even basic construction techniques, much less earthquake-resistant features, were always part of building practices. Most construction was done in the informal sector, so no training programs on seismic-resistant construction were available. Rural families commonly build their own dwellings with the help of unskilled artisans.

Most collapsing houses were two- to three-story mudbrick constructions. Faulty construction, especially lack of framing, was identified as the principal cause of structural failure but housing units of better quality - built of stone or with cement mortar - were also badly cracked. Only houses with framed construction or reinforced concrete escaped damage. Infrastructure was also vulnerable to disaster. Many of the hill roads had been built without engineering surveys and were prone to flash floods and landslides. Nor were there national awareness campaigns to mitigate disaster.


Immediately after the earthquake, the central government, with the help of the local and the international donor community, mounted a relief operation. Two thousand NRs (Nepalese rupees) (US$82) were provided to a family in which someone was killed and 1,000 rupees (US$41) to families that lost a house. Some families were provided with a temporary shelter as part of disaster relief. At the same time, the government embarked on a program of reconstruction, recovery, and disaster mitigation and management. In December 1988, the government asked for help to rehabilitate about 2,350 schools damaged in the earthquake and provide temporary accommodations for schools not included in the first year’s construction plan (Patrick McCarthy 1989). The international community supported the relief and rehabilitation operations.

On September 22, 1988, the government launched a comprehensive reconstruction and rehabilitation program that cost US$54.8 million for housing and US$30.2 million for schools. With the help of a Bank credit, the Nepalese government designed a scheme to grant concessional loans to all homeless families under a system of interest rebates. Annual lending rates for reconstruction loans vary between 1 percent and 15 percent. The government pays the banks the difference between those interest rates and the standard annual lending rate - at the time, 19 percent. All families who received early assistance through the initial payments for loss were eligible for these loans. So many low-income victims were affected that few had the resources or savings to rebuild independently. Most loans of US$400 covered only housing repairs, mostly in rural areas. About 5 percent of housing loans for about US$2,000 were provided to finance starter homes in urban areas. Any family with a certificate of need (eligibility) could qualify for a loan, which was unusual in Nepal, where housing loans are not generally available. The reconstruction experience is expected to demonstrate the feasibility of low-cost housing solutions so banks will be encouraged to embark on a fall home financing system.

The Bank agreed to help the government with long-term housing reconstruction geared to reduce vulnerability and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. The idea of the reconstruction program was (1) to provide technical assistance and training for both rural and urban housing, (2) to help nongovernment organizations (NGOs), (3) to improve construction standards, and (4) to address the environmental problem of the building industry’s overuse of wood.

One of two project investment streams was for municipal development; the other, for emergency housing reconstruction, aimed to provide immediate and longer-term assistance to householders hurt by the earthquake. The housing component focused on (1) improving building techniques and earthquake-resistance, (2) supporting NGOs in the provision of such resources as low-cost sanitation, water, improved stoves in rural areas, and innovative building materials, (3) helping entrepreneurs and community groups manufacture such building products as cement blocks and steel doors, and (4) encouraging the use of alternative building materials that would reduce the use of timber. In addition, the longer-term technical assistance and training program would help with (5) disaster management, (6) preparation of a national building code that encourages earthquake-resistant construction, and (7) implementation of epicentric and seismic mapping for Nepal.

Twenty-five percent of the funds for housing reconstruction were disbursed in the first five months of project implementation. Each member of a reconstruction team directed the activities of two “panchayats” or municipalities. Each team was guided by ten “overseers,” or technical officers - local contractors and engineering students especially trained in earthquake-resistant construction. To ensure that more hazardproof building methods were used in rehabilitation, overseers reviewed designs and construction onsite. Moreover, the use of earthquake-resistant techniques was a condition of the loan. Building inspections were not always possible because many damaged homes were inaccessible. To give loan recipients the opportunity to make adequate choices about disaster-resistant construction, they were required to walk through demonstration houses built near the lending banks. The models emphasized simple, cost-effective, earthquake-resistant features such as bonding at the comers, securing gable walls, and providing lintels over openings and secure roof structures. In district headquarters and urban areas it was mandatory to incorporate such features. The Housing Ministry took advantage of the reconstruction effort to promote better sanitation and low-energy cooking stoves. Both were included in the demonstration houses and financial incentives for their construction were part of the loan packages.

Immediately after the earthquake, the Bank proposed reallocating savings from an ongoing Primary Education Project to help rehabilitate school buildings. But the government’s priorities were on housing reconstruction, so not until December 1988 was a formal request made for Bank assistance in school rehabilitation. IDA agreed to launch a major school rehabilitation project, based on the Bank’s emergency assistance procedures - which give prominence to disaster prevention, mitigation, and preparedness.

The idea of the schools project was to build five to 13 classrooms in the shortest possible time in all affected communities. Plans were to provide a basic reinforced, earthquake-resistant school structure with roofs, foundations and floors, sill perimeter walls, and door and window frames. The community was responsible for finishing works, providing building supplies from nearby, and some construction work.

The School Rehabilitation Project’s most difficult challenge was to deliver construction supplies and undertake construction at more than 2,000 sites, many of them remote. Strategically located temporary storage and distribution centers made it possible to provide recovery supplies to outlying areas.

In the first of two phases in the emergency recovery project the community helped provide construction materials; in the second phase, the school walls were completed and the schools finished. The project was to be implemented in three years. By January 1990, 40 pilot schools had been completed, located mostly in easier-to-reach areas.

Both the housing and school rehabilitation projects were coordinated by a central technical unit that made periodic site visits. A central coordinating committee chaired by the Ministry of Housing and Physical Planning coordinated the reconstruction program.

What the project accomplished

Several factors helped in Nepal’s reconstruction efforts. Most important, more than 95 percent of homes were owner-occupied, so land tenure was not an issue and families began rebuilding their homes almost immediately after the earthquake. The project promoted public awareness of disaster mitigation by distributing booklets showing earthquake-resistant designs and providing guidelines on the construction and use of materials for disaster-resistant construction. The project relied heavily on self-help construction and emphasized community participation - particularly through the dissemination of information about and the adoption of hazard-resistant technology. The government moved quickly to keep up with the rapid pace of reconstruction.

The project was realistically targeted to reconstruction-specific issues: carrying out short-term rehabilitation, strengthening domestic construction capability to repair earthquake damage, and maximizing disaster prevention and mitigation. The project agreement included measures geared to preventing losses and reducing vulnerability to earthquakes. Efforts focused on allocating resources to restore the economy and to generate income-earning opportunities. The goal of disaster prevention training was to reduce seismic vulnerability and to strengthen the government’s ability to cope with catastrophic events. The project focused on broadening policymakers’ understanding of natural disaster vulnerability and mechanisms to reduce it.

This project laid the foundation for stronger disaster management practices in Nepal but much remains to be done at the institutional level. Nepal still needs an appropriate legal framework, institutional management, and mechanisms to coordinate and develop a coherent policy that integrates technical disaster prevention into national development programs. The development of such instruments as building codes and land-use regulations must be incorporated in the national strategy for reducing vulnerability to calamities.

Training in the Asian-Pacific region

Brian Ward

Programs need people to implement them and people must be trained. This paper addresses the why, who, what, how, and where of disaster management training. It is based on five years’ experience at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) assessing training needs and implementing training programs in the Asian-Pacific Region. The greatest need for training is in Africa.


The goals of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) reflect awareness that disaster management is a national responsibility and that disasters and development are closely related. The importance of strengthening disaster management capabilities in disaster-prone developing countries has been repeatedly emphasized. But most discussions of the Decade have taken place in the developed world. The developed world’s identification and support of risk reduction strategies must be matched by an improved capability in the developing world - which already faces awesome developmental difficulties and conflicts of priorities - to implement those strategies nationally. Without human resource development programs in developing countries, the altruism of the developed world may be misunderstood, developing countries may become disillusioned, and the expectations of the Decade may be unrealized.

“At times training becomes a remote and irrelevant activity with little apparent impact on performance and with considerable waste of resources,” wrote W.C. Baum and S.M. Tolbert (1985) in an evaluation of World Bank experience. Why is training sometimes ineffective? Are the aims wrongly defined? Is the training badly organized? Are the trainees incorrectly selected? Surely nobody would suggest that training per se is wrong.

What is disaster management and why is it necessary to train for it? Disaster management is the term used to describe all disaster activities from prevention to reconstruction. An effective disaster manager must, first, be a good manager generally; second, understand disasters; and third, be a good crisis manager. In normal circumstances, managers usually have time on their side and can proceed cautiously, using sophisticated planning tools to arrive at considered, economical decisions. But a crisis manager is expected to analyze information (often incomplete and sometimes inaccurate), make decisions, and issue clear, unambiguous instructions under extreme pressure.

The aim of disaster management training is to improve the skills of practicing managers by

· Upgrading their knowledge of the theory and practice of disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, reconstruction, and recovery, and their relationship to development.

· Introducing to them the special tools of disaster management, such as risk and vulnerability analysis, counterdisaster planning, and crisis management.

But in a crisis people with good basic management skills will outperform intrinsically weak managers, no matter how much disaster management training they have had.

To be effective, training must be preceded by thorough needs assessment studies so that aims are clearly defined and appropriate programs developed to meet them. There have been several needs assessment studies in recent years. A comprehensive regional assessment was undertaken at the Australian Counter Disaster College, Mt. Macedon, to determine training requirements in the Asian-Pacific region (National Disaster Organization, Australia 1981). Another review conducted in the region by UNDRO/WHO (1985), with funding from UNDP, led to the establishment of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC). UNDP commissioned a global survey and WMO/ESCAP reviewed areas of interest to the Tropical Cyclone Committee. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR 1988) conducted a global survey on behalf of UNDRO. Although heavily oriented toward Africa the survey highlighted the recurrent lack of comprehensive disaster management programs and dependence on external ad hoc assistance for training. It recommended that training methodologies be formulated to stimulate national capabilities and suggested the following avenues for action, which apply equally in the Asian-Pacific region:

· Strengthen cooperation between neighboring countries and the donor relief community through existing regional apparatus, provide a central point for accessing and diffusing disaster information, and improve coordination of relief activities between donor organizations, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), government agencies, and the national government itself.

· Use “trainer training” to build the relief assistance officers’ skills in training personnel with other roles and functions.

· Strengthen the link between the means of collecting disaster information and its dissemination to improve decisionmaking about the stocking and distribution of relief supplies, for early warning and forecasting, and for building public awareness.

· Find more innovative ways to interpret the evaluations and translate the experience of relief assistance managers into training activities.

· Improve the disaster management skills of the personnel responsible for managing relief operations, including full-time relief assistance managers and personnel charged with food supply and distribution and early warning systems.

· Define the disaster and environmental threats each country faces and define training needed to meet those threats.

· Identify the latest techniques and skills in disaster management and find ways to adapt them to training programs for disaster authorities.

The UNITAR report stresses the importance of stimulating national capabilities. Sykes (1989) suggests that the answers to the challenges posed by disasters are to be found in the disaster-prone areas themselves - that the first order of business is to learn from traditional practice and response, to strengthen local capabilities, and to seek locally based, low-tech solutions for local disaster reduction. This bottom-up approach - focusing disaster mitigation and response at the community level - has always been a cornerstone of the ADPC’s program philosophy. Top-down programs - in which the role of intervening international agencies or the protection of donor investment are seen as paramount - are conceptually flawed. The first priority for the international community should be to help strengthen national capabilities.


Who needs to be trained? Almost everybody, because disasters can affect the whole community. But not everyone needs to be trained as a disaster manager. Training must be appropriate to the level at which it is conducted. Potential victims need to be shown what they can do to help themselves, relief workers need to be trained to help others, community leaders must be shown how to prepare their communities, and so on. In acquainting themselves with the sort of assistance that is likely to be asked of them and preparing to provide it, donors must recognize that their perception of what is needed may not be the same as the recipients’ perception.

For governments, disaster management is an extension of routine administrative responsibilities. The Government of India (1878 and 1913) recognized this long ago, which may account in part for the remarkable success of its recent relief operations after the severe drought in 1987 and the cyclone in Andhra Pradesh in 1990.

The district officer or governor is the person who takes charge of local disaster relief operations, no matter what the cause of the disaster - be it a typhoon or an industrial accident, the effects of which extend beyond the factory fence. That person - as an administrator, not a specialist - has to coordinate the work of different relief agencies: the people themselves, government departments, NGOs, the private sector, and international agencies. So government officials should be high on the priority list for disaster management training.

The ADPC has found that its twice-yearly six-week disaster management courses - which bring together 25 to 30 people from various disciplines and from 12 to 15 countries - provide a stimulating forum for interdisciplinary and international interchange. It is not easy to promote dialogue between different disciplines - engineers and sociologists talk different languages - but if they cannot work together in disaster training, what hope is there that they can work together in the event? The ADPC has also introduced a novel series of courses on “Improving Cyclone Warning Response and Management,” for which a team of three experts is selected from each country - a meteorologist who is responsible for preparing and issuing cyclone warnings, a disaster preparedness official responsible for public awareness and response programs, and an engineer or planner responsible for preparedness and mitigation measures. The aim is to create the nucleus of a national interdisciplinary team for a common purpose. Once a small national multidisciplinary cadre of like-minded people - a critical mass - has been established in a country, disaster-related programs begin to expand.

Given the limited availability of training programs it is important that training be put to good use. The ADPC’s primary criterion for selecting participants for its training programs is that applicants must hold positions in which they have direct responsibility for some aspect of disaster management. The application form for the ADPC Disaster Management Course asks them to state to what use they will put the knowledge they will acquire in the course. There is inevitably waste as alumni move on to other jobs, but the training is not entirely lost. They may return later in positions of more authority and probably remain disciples of the disaster management philosophy.


The first step in organizing a course is to decide specifically its aim, target group, and content. The ADPC adopts the “need-to-know” principle in designing its course curricula: what does a person need to know about a particular topic to be able to do a job better? The assumption is that applicants are already practicing disaster management professionals, and that the aim of training is to sharpen their skills. Emphasis is on practice rather than on theory and principles. Participants are encouraged to share their knowledge and experience, are introduced to new concepts and skills, and are stimulated to think through course work to commit their experiences and thoughts to paper. Each national group is required to give a presentation on the disaster profile and organization of its country. Individuals are required to present a case study and prepare a briefing paper incorporating the disaster profile (including a 10-year projection), a description of the counterdisaster organizations in their country, a statement of the role of their own organization, an analysis of their organization’s performance, and recommendations for improvement.

In addition to individual skills training and sectoral training programs, an essential component of a national disaster management training strategy should be multidisciplinary training programs for managers. The “generalist” training of disaster managers should be matched by technical training for specialists. Academic training is not enough for specialists in disaster mitigation; practicing professionals need updates. In the Philippines, in collaboration with national institutions, the ADPC organized two intensive training courses - Aseismic Design and the Construction of Structures - to introduce practicing engineers and architects from the Philippines and other ASEAN countries to the latest techniques in seismic hazard mitigation. In the Philippines the ADPC has also helped train local engineers and foremen who are now supervising an immensely successful Core Shelter project in which people in local communities are building their own typhoon-resistant, low-cost housing out of local materials.


The recent rapid expansion of disaster-related training in the Asian-Pacific region has been most encouraging. Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Viet Nam, for example, have all organized successful programs. Support has come from donors who have been quick to recognize the value of this training: AIDAB, CIDA, SCF (UK), UNDP, UNESCO, ODA/UK, USAID/OFDA, and others. Donor agencies such as WMO/ESCAP and the Australian Overseas Disaster Response Organization have helped with regional training programs. But all national programs have been conducted on an ad hoc basis despite considerable difficulties, handicapped by a shortage of qualified trainers and good teaching materials and no national institutional base. It would be sensible for any future programs to build on these successes. How can these handicaps be overcome?

All supervisors have an obligation to improve the professional skills of their subordinates. On-the-job training and learning by example are important parts of this process - but only parts. There is also a need for professionally conducted training programs. It is unrealistic to expect busy officials to organize high-quality, intensive training programs on top of their routine duties, although they make valuable contributions as resources. It is wrong to assume that someone sent on a disaster management course will return as a trainer able to organize effective training programs. It is one thing to acquire knowledge; it is another to know how to pass it on. Disaster management training courses are best organized by a small cadre of professionals who usually have learned better teaching skills in short courses on teaching methods. There is a need for “trainer training.”

National trainers can easily become discouraged by the lack of available teaching materials. There is a pressing need to develop high-quality common-user teaching packages - including audiovisual aids of the style used by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) - to use, with appropriate modifications for local circumstances, in national training programs.

Management is best taught by creating an environment in which people learn from experience in an interactive process for which lectures or self-instruction are no substitute. On-the-job training - observing good and bad managers at work - works well in normal circumstances but not for teachers of crisis management. The training would come too late. Simulations are an indispensable teaching tool. Simulations were invented by the Germans more than a hundred years ago to give their armies practice at war; they called them war games. Recently business schools discovered them and renamed them simulations; then academia discovered them and called them hypotheticals. Whatever they are called, they try to recreate as realistically as possible in a learning environment a real-life situation and the problems that are likely to occur in it so that the players can develop their individual and group response skills. The ADPC routinely uses the ATLANTIS crisis management simulation exercise developed by the Cranfield Disaster Preparedness Center - jointly with the IBM/(UK) Scientific Center - for its disaster management courses.


Disaster management training, like any form of continuing education, is an ongoing process. Officials move on to new appointments and those taking their places must be trained. Trainers themselves must be kept up to date, to refresh their knowledge, lest they get out of touch with the realities of disaster and their teaching becomes remote and irrelevant.

Ad hoc programs lack continuity, have no institutional memory, and are denied the security of ongoing budget provisions. An institutional base can be provided in three ways: by creating a separate entity, by assigning the responsibility to a particular government ministry or department, or by assigning the responsibility to a particular agency or institute.

All three options have been tried. Australia established a Counter Disaster College. The United States has the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The Indonesian Disaster Management Center, with interdepartmental responsibilities, is under the day-to-day care of the Department of Social Affairs. The ADPC is part of the Asian Institute of Technology, an autonomous regional institute of higher education. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. There is no definitive formula; the most appropriate option depends on a country’s organizational structure, perceptions of operational responsibilities, research needs, funding, and so forth. Whatever formula is adopted, it should be seen as no more than an institutional base that, while conducting its own training activities, also supports training elsewhere.

Training should be conducted as widely as possible. Schools can teach children basic survival skills; universities should be encouraged to introduce relevant disaster-related courses into their routine curricula. Governments should make greater use of institutes, schools, and colleges through which promising officials pass in midcareer as part of the promotion process - for example, institutes of public administration, schools of management, and service staff colleges. Introducing disaster management training into the routine curricula of such institutes would provide a wonderful opportunity, at minimal cost, of disseminating the concept of disaster management to captive audiences of people at the right level of seniority who might well be key actors in a real event. This concept was put forward by UNDRO (1975) and Ritchie (1976) but has yet to take root.

What is the role of international centers? The UNITAR report (1988) highlighted some of the advantages of a regional multidisciplinary disaster management center or mechanism. It:

· Provides a formal, multidisciplinary approach for training national relief assistant managers and managers from NGOs, especially the national societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

· Gives specialized training for technical disaster experts such as health managers, assessment teams, and engineers specializing in disaster-resistant construction.

· Establishes a permanent forum for disaster management networking, facilitating collaboration among international, bilateral, and nongovernment organizations providing disaster assistance.

· Provides a center for disseminating information on training techniques and practices and disaster-related publications.

· Encourages predisaster activities to stimulate planning in countries that have few resources or weak response capabilities.

The ADPC sees its role as directly analogous to that of its parent organization, the Asian Institute of Technology - which is to provide training in an international forum, usually multidisciplinary, at a level that is not now available nationally. Thus its role is support, not substitution. The formula seems to be working. The ADPC has served as a catalyst in Asian-Pacific countries.

Putting knowledge into practice

Training is a means to an end, not an end in itself - its purpose, to enhance capabilities. At the ADPC, all course participants are told that the success of their training will be measured by what they do when they return home. It is not enough that they are better informed; they must put their knowledge into practice. Each participant is invited to make a list of personal goals for the next 12 months and encouraged to report his achievements. Training strategies should build on past achievements and make use of available opportunities. The disaster training needs of Asian-Pacific countries are for help in creating cadres of trainers, providing them with effective training tools, providing national institutional bases, and providing opportunities to share knowledge and training expertise with neighboring countries.

This paper has concentrated on training in the Asian-Pacific region and claims little knowledge of training in other regions, although it may be similar. According to the UNITAR report (1988) the greatest need for training is in Africa. The Cranfield Disaster Preparedness Centre has trained about 500 African officials. Other organizations - notably the UNDRO/Pan-Caribbean Disaster Preparedness and Prevention Project (PCDPPP), the Disaster Management Center at the University of Wisconsin, and the Oxford Polytechnic (UK) Disaster Management Center - are providing support to national and donor agency programs elsewhere. The Relief and Development Institute (UK) has developed excellent training materials. The UNITAR report suggests that the ADPC and PCDPPP represent new approaches to disaster management, “models from which applications could be made for the formulation of a training curriculum in the targeted sub-region(s) of Africa,” but these two organizations are by no means the only actors. IDNDR offers a golden opportunity to pool worldwide expertise and develop training programs and materials for the benefit of disaster-prone developing countries.

Remote sensing and technology transfer in developing countries

H.M. Hassan and Wayne Luscombe

Natural disasters are more devastating in developing countries than in developed countries as developed countries are better prepared to cope with disasters through well-established surveillance, early warning, and preparedness programs. Information technologies designed to predict, monitor, and assess disasters are generally unavailable and poorly understood in developing countries. Improving disaster information management in developing countries is a technology transfer problem, but issues of intellectual property rights limit disaster information management applications in those countries. The use of remote sensing information in disaster management in developed countries has been limited and mostly exotic. Remote sensing is considered high technology, and there is a widespread belief that it cannot be transferred to developing countries - whether for disaster management or broader uses such as natural resource and environmental management. Developing countries must be helped to have better access to remote sensing technology so they can deal with disasters more effectively.

Disasters can never be eliminated, but modern technologies give us access to detailed information that can be used to minimize damage. Most disasters must be dealt with in a matter of days and sometimes hours. Disasters are by nature unpredictable, uncontrollable, difficult to assess, and disturbing. Decisions must be made in a state of shock and uncertainty, when the information needed for rational judgments is imprecise and often nonexistent. Remote sensing is especially helpful in developing countries in which baseline information is unavailable and communication systems are weak. Remote sensing can play an indispensable role in disaster warning, monitoring, and damage assessment, especially in relation to droughts, floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and locust outbreaks.

Floods. Satellite images made it easy to compare the extent of inundation to normal preflood conditions during the Mississippi River Flood of 1973 (Deutsch and others 1973). The synoptic (three-dimension) coverage of satellite remote sensing provides a bird’s-eye view of the whole flood area at uniform scale. The satellite’s frequent revisits to flood-prone areas allows a comparison of flood conditions over time at reasonable cost. Remote sensing allows quick delineation of inundated areas, allows rapid calculation of flood damage to agricultural and urban lands (combined with other data), and facilitates planning for flood control and disaster preparedness programs. The flood forecasting and early warning program in Bangladesh was one attempt to use different remote sensing and ground survey data to establish a dependable early flood warning system. With significant recent improvements in spatial, spectral, and temporal resolution of satellite remote sensing, flood monitoring and forecasting are now more achievable. State-of-the-art disaster management technologies have been used in a few developing countries, but such applications were situation-specific and implemented mostly by outside agencies. There was little, if any, interaction with local people and no real know-how was transferred.

Earthquakes. Satellite remote sensing is of limited use in the assessment of earthquake damage to buildings, structures, transportation, and communication networks because of the relatively coarse resolution of current commercially available satellite images. However, the synoptic view provided by satellites has been helpful in studying earthquake-prone areas worldwide. It is possible to analyze the surface signatures of deep-seated structures that appear on satellite images as distinctive lineament patterns. Using satellite data, seismologists are able to pinpoint areas of dangerous deformation on the earth’s surface - information that is useful in forecasting seismic activity. Active earthquake zones can be roughly located and risk maps produced by reviewing plate tectonic motions and past seismic activity and geologically interpreting remote sensing data. It is also possible to assess landslide-susceptible areas by analyzing spectral patterns on satellite imagery and studying maps of soil and water resources.

Earthquakes are not preventable, but it is possible at least to reduce the damage from them. At least twice in China the prediction of earthquakes saved many people’s lives (Gunner and others 1984). Advanced Japanese, Soviet, and U.S. research in earthquake prediction is promising, and applications of satellite images for earthquake damage assessment have been reported (Simonett 1978, Carter and Easton 1973). Time is the most important factor after an earthquake disaster. If less time is spent gathering information on which to base decisions, early search, relief, and restoration measures may save lives and property.

Volcanic eruption. Timely satellite images allow rapid assessment of the damage caused by volcanic eruptions. Areas covered by lava, mud-flows, and volcanic ash are easily detectable against satellite images of undisturbed soil. Thermal and infrared channels on satellite and aircraft sensors have been used to study the temperature differential between lava flows and ash and their colder surroundings. Measuring the tilt of a volcano before eruption allows an early warning if coupled with other indicators such as the geochemistry of emitted gases, the heat flow from the volcano, and measures of microseismic activity.

Tropical cyclones. Because of their violent nature, their duration, and the extensive area they can affect, tropical cyclones can be among the most devastating of disasters. They develop over the open sea and may continue to have destructive power for two weeks or more. Cyclone disasters result from violent winds, excessive rainfall, and rising seas. If a tropical cyclone moves inland or along a coastline it can bring death and damage to extensive areas, involving many countries. Scientists understand the nature of tropical cyclones relatively well, thanks partially to radar, weather satellites, and computer modeling. It is not possible to prevent tropical cyclones, but radar, satellites, and radios allow their course to be tracked and warnings to be issued in reasonable time. Cyclone-prone areas can be studied and preparedness programs developed for those areas.

Drought. Drought is a long-term creeping disaster that is usually not limited to one country but crosses national boundaries to cover regional ecosystems. Satellite remote sensing has been extensively used in the prediction, surveillance, and assessment of drought and drought damage. Early warning systems with remote sensing components for drought monitoring have been established in many drought-prone areas worldwide. Low-resolution satellite data from weather satellites have been useful in making rough but quick predictions and assessments of drought in Africa’s Sahelian zone (Heilkema and others 1986). High-resolution satellite and aerial data have been used to zoom in on specific areas in a drought zone for detailed study and analysis.

Agriculture and forestry disasters. Many calamities occur because of stress on forests and crops from disease, insect infestations, fires, and the like. Changes in spectral reflection of remotely sensed images of crops, forests, and rangeland indicate irregularities in the degree of plant vigor. This clearly shows in the microwave and infrared bands. Changes in spectral responses can be detected long before images are visible to the naked eye. Time-lapse images are useful in early warning and damage assessment programs. D.E. Pedgley’s early work using satellite images in the surveillance of locust breeding sites in Saudi Arabia was followed by FAO’s successful work using NOAA satellite data in the early detection of locust breeding habitats in North Africa (Heilkema and others 1986).

Problems of technology transfer

Some problems hinder the transfer of remote sensing technologies to developing countries for disaster management:

· Remote sensing is considered high technology and because of trade issues involving intellectual property rights often cannot be transferred to developing countries.

· Few developing countries have the technical capabilities to absorb the transfer of such complex technology.

· Policymakers and managers find it difficult if not impossible to devote limited human and financial resources to such high-technology endeavors.

· In many developing countries, long-term planning is practiced only on paper. Soon after long- or medium-term plans are prepared and approved they are ignored and begin gathering dust on shelves. Reactive, piecemeal, short-term programs are the norm, not the exception.

· The “supply-driven” approaches promoted by technologists and technology vendors have been counterproductive in influencing policy-makers and planners to accept and promote long-term disaster information management programs, because these high-technology disaster information management programs have not been integrated with indigenous policy planning.

· Remotely sensed data have been only intermittently available in developing countries, because of the high cost of data and security measures imposed by some countries. This makes the use of such information for long-term planning difficult.

There is an inconsistency between the level of technological development that can be used in disaster management, and the level developing countries can and do actually use. Disaster information technologies transferred to developing countries after a disaster are often both unfocused and oversophisticated. Most of the disaster information technologies deployed in developing countries are technologies borrowed from the military. Others are makeshift technologies quickly put together for that particular situation.

What must be done

The 1972 Declaration of the UN Conference on the Human Environment states that “environmental deficiencies generated by the conditions of underdevelopment and natural disasters pose grave problems and can best be remedied by accelerated development through the transfer of financial and technological assistance as a supplement to the domestic efforts of the developing countries” (OAS 1988). Until recently, disaster assistance programs have traditionally provided relief immediately after a disaster. Few disaster assistance efforts have included rehabilitation, and no comprehensive systems of disaster preparedness have been implemented in developing countries.

In the last two decades, with recognition of the repetitive patterns of many natural disasters, increased attention has been paid to predisaster measures, especially early warning systems and preparedness planning. The Organization of American States (OAS 1988) recommends making natural hazard assessment and mitigation an integral part of development planning. Disaster information should be part of ongoing natural resource information management programs in developing countries.

Accurate data and effective communication are basic needs in normal development planning. When and where disaster strikes, they are even more important. Disaster information should be thought of as a layer of natural resource information management with critical time requirements. Although there may be certain specifications for disaster information, developing this information as part of an overall information management program for development planning will guarantee its sustainability and the effectiveness of technology transfer. It will also help establish the long-term baseline information that is crucial in disaster studies. Resources available to national, subregional, and regional organizations in the fields of remote sensing, geographical information systems (GIS), and natural resource information management should be used to develop such a system. Scientists and technicians in natural resource centers should be the targets for proposed technology transfers. Properly trained, they can work with local personnel to develop sustainable systems for monitoring, forecasting, and managing disasters and issuing early warnings.

Remote sensing technology, geographical information systems, and methods of information dissemination may all need to be transferred. Training should be provided in acquisition and storage of remotely sensed data, in planning and implementing aerial surveys, in processing and analyzing the data visually and digitally, and in disseminating information.

“Do not give me a fish,” says the old Chinese proverb, “but teach me how to fish.” Simply supplying a country with machinery does not constitute technology transfer. The “mastery of technology cannot be bought; it must be learned” (World Bank 1988c). One does not so much transfer technology as transplant it, and one must recognize the complexity of integrating a technological approach in a new setting.

Case study: Minas Gerais Forestry Development Project

Alcira Kreimer and Martha Preece

The Minas Gerais Forestry Development Project came about at a key point in environmental development and planning. For 20 years, the philosophy behind forest management was that forest fires are essentially healthy for overall growth and that forests should be allowed to burn naturally. The devastating effects of uncontrolled fires have forced a review of this approach and of policies that encourage or are lenient about slashing and burning forests to expand agricultural land. The Minas Gerais forestry project changed the emphasis from emergency response to long-term prevention and mitigation of uncontrolled conflagrations. This project recognized the need for important changes in government policies and priorities, especially those that minimize environmental damage from the expansion of agriculture and the promotion of economic growth. An important step in that direction is the project’s emphasis on controlling forest harvesting and forest fire, managing native forests, improving industrial production of wood, and educating the public about conservation.

The environment is deteriorating at a fast pace in Brazil. Its 850 million hectares contain about 350 million hectares of endangered tropical forest (about 30 percent of the world total). The depletion of forest resources is commonly attributed to the expansion of agriculture - particularly the conversion of natural forests to subsistence agriculture, livestock production, and commercial and industrial plantations. Brazil’s national deforestation rate is relatively low compared with other developing countries, but in the last five decades much of the forest stock has been removed for sawtimber and pulpwood. In addition, the savannah areas (cerrados) have been progressively reduced to provide land for agriculture and as a source of construction materials, fuelwood, and charcoal for the steel industry of Minas Gerais. Dennis Mahar (1989) reports that deforestation in Amazonia has accelerated since the mid-1970s. About 125,000 square kilometers had been cleared as of 1980 and almost 600,000 square kilometers by 1988.

Minas Gerais

Minas Gerais is the fourth largest state in Brazil. Its 586,624.3 square kilometers (7 percent of Brazil’s land area) are inhabited by about 14.6 million people, 26.5 percent of whom live in rural areas. A major iron and steel producing region, Minas Gerais produces 85 percent of Brazil’s charcoal-smelted pig iron and steel. It also leads in use of charcoal as a cooking fuel. Forestry, including charcoal manufacturing, is the second most important industry, generating 11 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

Except for a few small state parks, virtually no virgin forests remain. Less than half of 1 percent of the state’s surface area is in state or federal parks and reserves. And many important ecosystems, including the cerrado, have no reserves at all. About 25.7 million hectares (43 percent of the total) are classified as “forest” lands, including 2.1 million hectares of plantations. But most of them are severely degraded because of mismanagement and uncontrolled timber removal. This has disrupted the natural and human environment, degrading soil and water, making fuelwood scarce, reducing agricultural productivity, and increasing the risk of floods. Further degradation, whether the result of natural hazards or mismanagement, threatens long-term sustainable development by increasing the region’s vulnerability to disasters. Uncontrolled fires disturb the soil, diminish its ability to store water, and threaten the forest’s ecological balance. Reduced tree cover - because of forest fires or deforestation - magnifies the risk of flooding, water runoff, the sedimentation of riverbeds, and thus disasters.

The growing industrial demand for fuelwood, the repeated uncontrolled burning of pasturelands, and rudimentary, somewhat inefficient charcoal manufacturing methods have exacerbated the rate at which native forests are cut. Domestic demand for fuelwood cannot be sustained by natural regrowth, given the present low productivity of the natural forest. Despite large-scale reforestation and increasing supervision and control of forest cutting by the State Forestry Institute (IEF), more than 80 percent of the fuelwood used for charcoal production still comes from native forests - mostly from the cerrado areas. The gathering area for fuelwood continues to expand, threatening the survival of tropical forest ecosystems countrywide.

Regional vulnerability

There are no reliable data on the number and causes of forest fires in Minas Gerais. IEF estimates that up to 30 percent of the state is burned annually, mainly to clear land for pasture or croplands. Many of these deliberately set fires extend into forest areas, risking devastation and heavy economic and environmental losses. The problem is compounded by policies designed to expand the agricultural frontiers, by poorly defined regulations, and by inconsistencies between environmental laws and broad economic policies and incentives. IEF has no appropriate preventive action programs and inadequate staffing and equipment, so forests have become increasingly susceptible to natural disasters. Today, the equilibrium of some areas - particularly the cerrado ecosystem - is rapidly changing, possibly endangered by large-scale land clearing for agricultural purposes and to provide charcoal for the iron industry. Soil erosion and progressive degradation of the remaining forests force farmers to shorten fallow periods, eroding the land’s productive capacity and precipitating further destruction of the forests. These conditions have diminished the forest’s ability to maintain soil fertility, control water runoff, and prevent flooding.

Changes in Brazil’s forestry policy

The government’s objective of promoting economic development by expanding the agricultural frontier over the past two decades has put increasing pressure on Brazil’s forest lands. In the 1980s, there was growing recognition that efficient, sustainable economic development depends on sound use of natural resources. The government has tried to establish a policy and institutional framework to encourage the protection of natural forests. The government has modified important policies and laws that conflicted with the goals of environmental protection and sound management. One policy now prohibits new fiscal incentives for establishing extensive beef cattle schemes in forest areas of the Amazon. Another eliminates legislation that requires clearing land as proof of its occupancy and a precondition for securing the title to the land. This program also included measures in support of sustainable extractive uses of the forest. Forest development and conservation programs remain weak, however, because of strong resistance to land reform and population control, and the lack of consensus among professional, social, and political institutions. Moreover, forestry policies are difficult to implement in Brazil. This has been especially true of laws requiring reforestation in charcoal-producing areas.

The Minas Gerais Project

Environmental issues have become increasingly important in the Bank’s program in Brazil. In the last decade, the Bank has supported environmental, forestry, and Amerindian protection programs under many of its projects in Brazil. It has participated in more than 50 agricultural projects in the country, totaling about US$3.5 million.

In April 1982 the Bank appraised a project to finance 40,000 hectares of industrial-scale reforestation in the state of Minas Gerais. Negotiations broke down because the federal government was preparing a national reforestation program that would include most of the components contemplated for the project. Unfortunately, the national program failed to materialize for lack of government financing. Meanwhile the depletion of forest resources in Minas Gerais accelerated. In late 1985, the state government asked the Bank to support a forestry project that would help preserve and conserve the state’s native forests. The Bank’s involvement in the project is based on its strategy of promoting sustainable economic growth through comprehensive action programs for environmental management and protection of natural resource bases.

The Minas Gerais forestry project focuses on expanding reforestation and increasing the productivity of native forests through better management, protecting forests through conservation and prevention programs, and strengthening the management capabilities of the State Forestry Institute. The credit for reforestation will help finance the expansion and rehabilitation of the state’s industrial forest area. At the same time, through the small-scale reforestation program the Bank will continue supporting forestry activities that encourage better land management, the conservation of native species, and extension support for small farmer silviculture. Labor-intensive planting, plantation maintenance, and harvesting activities are expected to generate jobs and income in the rural areas. Meanwhile all of the Bank’s rural development projects have targeted the forest sector with land management, soil conservation, small-scale reforestation, and fire prevention and mitigation activities.

Through December 1985, more than 47,000 hectares of small woodlots were established on the land of more than 26,000 participating farmers. An additional 34,000 hectares are expected to be established on more than 14,300 properties. An increasing number of native species are seriously threatened by uncontrolled deforestation, so the project is establishing and managing 7,300 hectares of native species plantations. To encourage community participation, the project expects to subsidize small farmer forestry activities. Seedlings and extension will be provided free to farmers who supply the labor to plant the trees on their land.

The project’s forestry conservation component is a key feature of its hazard prevention and mitigation strategy. The fire prevention and control program combines legal controls with environmental education to stop invasive burning. Surveillance and policing will focus on virgin rainforest and other protected areas. The Bank is also financing the staffing and equipping of a State Operational Center (COE) for forest fire prevention and control. Federal and state agencies will coordinate the formation of ad hoc fire-fighting brigades and will provide the information needed to predict or combat fires. The private forest and forest industries sector will also be called upon to form fire-fighting units. Procedures will be updated, particularly the system of permits for controlled burning by landowners. Six fire towers will be built in parks and reserves as part of the comprehensive fire response effort. Public education and awareness campaigns will be aimed at preventing hazards through better land-use management, planting, controlled burning, and fire control techniques. A variety of activities will promote measures to prevent and mitigate environmental degradation and losses from natural hazards. A state forest inventory and vegetation maps will be prepared to monitor, protect, and control forest harvesting and to examine changes in vegetation annually and semiannually. This will allow the Control Department (DC) to identify areas where unauthorized cutting is taking place.

To prevent further degradation of the cerrado vegetation that covers 55 percent of the state - providing more than 80 percent of the charcoal for the steel industry - the project may try to increase productivity of cerrados’ energy production. Because of heavy cutting followed by repeated burning, much of this vegetation has been devastated. The project may establish eight experimental plots to determine what different management techniques yield in fuelwood and charcoal production.

To reduce the pace of environmental degradation and ultimately protect and improve the quality of life, the project proposes to consolidate state parks and reserves, create public recreation areas, and support ecological research. The project will finance infrastructure, equipment, and staff for existing (legally designated) reserve areas and develop the most comprehensive ecological research program ever carried out in the state.

Case study: Da Xing An Ling Forest Fire Rehabilitation Project

Alcira Kreimer, Martha Preece, and Horst Wagner

By any standard, the Da Xing An Ling Forest Fire Rehabilitation Project was an extraordinary accomplishment. The impressive organization of the Da Xing An Ling Forest Corporation made it possible to salvage 12 million cubic meters of timber from a forest devastated by fire, and generate funds for forest regeneration and reconstruction of local infrastructure, among other things. The program significantly changed local attitudes toward fire prevention, by increasing awareness of the need for preventive activities. The disciplined approach of the fire fighters and their vastly improved fire safety records show the effectiveness of this strategy. Only the important work of forest regeneration has been slow because of the region’s difficult climate and a shortage of local expertise. Those efforts must be strengthened, particularly in the crucial areas of seed usage, site preparation, and seed harvesting and handling. But this project is a landmark in efforts to integrate environmental issues into the economic justification for the Bank’s involvement in rehabilitation programs.

Forest fires are often viewed as unavoidable quirks of nature and environmental degradation as the result of willful human tampering with natural environments (see box on fire management). Even the Bank distinguishes between natural disasters and environmental degradation as if the two were unrelated. But in recent years more preventive measures are being considered so future development efforts will not fall victim to catastrophe.

The underlying causes of a natural crisis can often be traced - at least in part - to tampering with the natural environment. One natural disaster often leads to another. Fires spreading freely through forests may deplete soil nutrients, rapid runoff from a burned area can contribute to flooding, and the erosion of exposed soil can trigger landslides (National Academy of Sciences 1987). Their origin may be linked to natural causes, as in China, or to human activities. In Brazil, colonization projects put settlers at more of a disadvantage than other producers because credits, agricultural input prices, and major markets were far beyond the reach of small producers. Low agricultural productivity, together with population pressure and poverty, forced farmers to fell and bum forests (Mahar 1989). Moreover, the increasing development and exploitation of natural resources is forcing a shift from extensive to intensive land use. The result is to shorten the fallow period, thus reducing the organic matter in soil and soil’s capacity to hold water. But fire also alters ecosystems and increases the chance of erosion and water runoff, thereby exacerbating a region’s vulnerability to further natural hazards. The fact that a disaster occurs “naturally” does not lessen its impact on environmental systems. Nor does it mean that attempts should not be made to assess the effects of disasters and protect the natural habitat from their potential damage.

The risk of wildfires becoming uncontrollable disasters has increased as environmental degradation accelerates, widening the path of disaster-proneness. After the devastating consequences of the Da Xing An Ling forest fire, the government of China is paying close attention to natural disaster reduction initiatives, focusing on activities to protect the natural environment. With Bank support (a $56.9 million loan), the country launched the largest salvage operation in the world and set up a fire protection system to prevent and mitigate wildfires. The Da Xing An Ling project became the Bank’s first effort at forest fire rehabilitation.

The vulnerability of China’s forests

Only 12 percent of China’s 9.5 million square kilometers of land area are under cultivation. Forestry, which employs 2.2 million people, accounts for less than 5 percent of the gross value of agricultural output. An estimated 261 million hectares, or almost 28 percent of China’s total land surface, is suitable for forest growth, but forest cover came to only 116 million hectares in 1985. Naturally regenerated forests cover about 110 million hectares; of these, 81 million hectares are timber forests, 10 million protection forests, 11 million farm forests, 3 million bamboo, 4 million fuel forests, and 1 million special-use forests. The other 6 million hectares are man-made forests. In 1984, timber production grew to almost 300 million cubic meters (compared with 95 million cubic meters in Japan and 317 million cubic meters in the United States). Forest products are the principal source of household fuelwood and housing construction materials in China. The country is undertaking a massive afforestation and reforestation effort, but it also faces an unprecedented demand for wood products. This, coupled with an accelerating decline in the supply of roundwood, has forced the government to increase imports of quality timber and to focus on improving forestry management and protection. China’s objective is to restore forest coverage to 20 percent of the total land area by the year 2000. Timber and fuelwood use is an estimated 300 million cubic meters a year; only slightly more than 50 million were logged for commercial use.

Historically, the country has regularly lost 40 percent of its annual timber production to fires. Between 1966 and 1986, fire destroyed an average 130,000 hectares of forests annually in the DXAL area, exacerbating the country’s wood shortage and intensifying the pressure on remaining forests.

The Da Xing An Ling area, in the far northern portion of Heilongjiang Province and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, is China’s most important timber producer. It covers 22.7 million hectares, of which 13.5 million hectares are closed forest stands. The dominant species are larch (70 percent of the standing volume), white birch (20 percent), scotch pine (7 percent), and spruce, poplar, and oak (3 percent).

In May 1987, one of the biggest wildfires on record occurred in China. The Da Xing An Ling fire lasted 28 days, blackened 1,330,000 hectares, and devastated 870,000 hectares of timber forest in the northern part of the country. It killed 193 people, left 56,000 homeless, and destroyed much of the region’s infrastructure, including railroad tracks, power lines, offices, and industries. “The city of Xilingji was wiped out in half an hour since gale force winds fanned the flames. The victims were mostly elderly and sick people, unable to escape quickly enough. Although the government concentrated more than 40,000 firefighters in the area, it took a month before the blaze was extinguished, with the help of the first spring rains” (Lindzen 1990). Nearly 40 million cubic meters were affected by the fire. Although the trees died, the wood was still intact and could be salvaged.

Fire has occurred often in the Da Xing An Ling forest region, where recurrent fires are part of the natural growth cycle. The area is dry and windy in the spring, with rainfall of only 200 millimeters in the winter, evaporation of 170 millimeters from March to May, and occasional gale-force winds from mid-April to mid-May. Nearly 100 forest fires a year are triggered by lightning and burn an average total of 150,000 hectares. The forest damage rate is 1.7 percent. Usually forest fires are not detected until they have spread over more than 60 hectares, and are not controlled until they reach an average 4,000 hectares. Use of these forests makes it necessary to break the natural cycle of recurrent forest fires. Development of this forest area started 22 years ago, but investments in fire protection in that period were not adequate to reduce average fire loss.

Some thoughts on fire management

Martha Preece

Environmental degradation may not trigger natural disasters, but it can make an area more hazard-prone. Forest environments are particularly susceptible to wildfires, quick-onset disasters that may be set off by a volcano, lightning, or human carelessness. The risk of a naturally ignited fire turning into catastrophe is increasingly seen as a function of the degradation of the forest habitat. Crises caused by fires are compounded by such long-standing problems as rural poverty, technological constraints, and inefficient tenure patterns and use of land. Mounting pressure on scarce land and forest resources has led to rapid and massive deforestation. Degradation of the environment sets the stage for sedimentation of surrounding riverbeds, major watershed problems, floods, landslides, acute water shortages in dry periods, and the irreversible loss of biological diversity.

Uncontrolled fires have contributed heavily to the depletion and exhaustion of natural forests. Like land clearing, they set in motion events that may result in permanent losses in biodiversity, soil fertility, and sustainable forest-based production. They usually produce large tracts of eroded and weed-infested lands, altering ecosystems and increasing vulnerability to natural hazards. Wildfires destroy timber and forage, disrupt animal habitats, deplete soil nutrients, and diminish an area’s tourist (scenic) value. Rapid runoff from a burned-over area can lead to flooding, and erosion of exposed soil can trigger landslides.

In the last 20 years environmentalists have been debating the merits of the controversial “let-it-burn” approach to forest management. The idea behind it is that blazes actually benefit the natural environment by both clearing under-brush that blocks sunlight from seedlings and preventing uncontrolled conflagrations. According to the U.S. Park Service, “the old suppress-all-fires” system caused more problems than it solved. The 1990 blaze at Yosemite spread quickly not only because of drought but also because decades’ worth of excess brush had accumulated during the years before controlled burning began (Dorfman and Wyss 1990).

Peters and Neuenschwander (1988) acknowledge the many benefits of slash-and-burn techniques and their near indispensability as a tool for shifting cultivation. But they emphasize how the exploitation of tropical forests has threatened the sustainability of traditional agricultural practices. “Land scarcity, brought about by population pressure and the increasing development and exploitation of natural resources, is forcing a change from extensive to intensive land use,” they write. When less land is available for subsistence cultivation, the only economical way to produce the same yields of traditional crops is to reduce the fallow period. The low value of crops usually does not justify the use of fertilizers, so the alternative for small farmers in developing countries is to exploit marginal lands and primary forests. The low cost of the slash-and-burn technique makes it the only economically feasible way for smallholder producers to clear land. But the practice has become an ecological, sociological, and economic concern because its uncontrolled use has caused severe environmental degradation. Accidental or escape fires can become catastrophes with devastating consequences. Unrestricted shifting cultivation and indiscriminate use of fire have become a major threat to forests. Therefore, fire prevention programs must address the issue of agricultural practices, poverty, and landlessness

The Da Xing An Ling fire developed from three major fires. Of the 40 million cubic meters destroyed and damaged, 12 million cubic meters were high-quality larch and pine with a railside value of at least US$1 billion. A quick salvage operation was necessary because insects and fungi spread rapidly in areas affected by fire. Only six months after the fire, bark fell off half of the dead trees, and 30 different insects were found in about 12 percent of them. The salvage operation was to be completed within two to three years and, indeed, by April 1990 the DXAL Forest Corporation had salvaged the planned 12 million cubic meters. Not all of the wood could be transported out of the region because of bottlenecks in rail transport; about 4 million cubic meters were stored and preserved to be transported in 1991.

After the devastating DXAL wildfire, the Ministry of Forestry was determined to restore the productive capacity of the forest industry and prevent any more uncontrolled fires. Besides rebuilding the houses and all the destroyed infrastructure in the area in 1989, the government was committed to developing a comprehensive fire prevention and protection system. Authorities have substantially revamped the fire prevention and control capability and have established an effective ground protection system combined with early warning detection by air surveillance and satellite. They have also built up firefighting capability by combining ground brigades, all-terrain vehicle crews, and helicopter fire-suppression systems.

Bank strategy for DXAL fire protection

In 1988 the Bank approved a credit for $56.9 million, financing 11 percent of a project that cost US$517 million, to “launch the largest salvage operation in the world and set up a space age fire protection system in a forest area the size of Great Britain” (Wagner 1988). The Bank’s strategy included:

· Fire prevention - building up a multilevel prevention system that combines ground patrols, fire towers, and early aerial and satellite fire detection systems.

· Fire suppression - by mechanized fire brigades on the ground and aerial fire suppression by helicopters carrying fire retardant chemicals and firefighting brigades.

· An emergency salvage operation - to minimize economic losses by felling, logging, and transporting burnt but usable timber before it decayed or became infested with insects.

· Regeneration of the forest cover mainly through seeding, natural vegetation, and - to a lesser extent - plantation.

The regeneration program still needs improvement. The management, equipment, and proper use of seed harvesting and handling technology must be reviewed to improve seed quality, reduce costs, and accelerate regeneration. The regeneration of larch, scotch pine, and birch has been emphasized. Larch is remarkably adapted to these cataclysmic sites. Its thick bark protects it from severe burning, and its coning and seed distribution patterns are ideally suited to the vagaries of the climate. Scotch pine complements larch, taking over certain ecological niches unsuited to it, and birch has the capacity to sprout from tree stumps, so it establishes a canopy quickly, creating the conditions needed to reestablish larch. Further technical assistance will be needed to speed up the regeneration process. The project has emphasized the development of nurseries to raise stock for hand planting. But the regeneration of indigenous species increases the potential for infestations of pests and disease. Such extensive reforestation calls for adaptation of the methods developed for the natural forest. A scheme to encourage villagers to protect birds should reduce insect infestation, and restocking natural predators should reduce the serious rodent damage experienced in some places.

An extraordinary achievement

In the DXAL fire, a natural crisis became a disaster for lack of a reliable prevention and disaster preparedness program. Implementation of the aerial and satellite fire detection and firefighting measures has significantly reduced the effects of fires. In 1989, the DXAL forest area had the lowest incidence of fires in its history. The loss of forests to fire dropped from an annual average of 130,000 hectares to fewer than 60 hectares. (The appraisal target was 30,000 hectares.) Fire management has been improved by a fire protection system that combines aerial and satellite surveillance with fire tower and ground patrol observation. About 1,500 kilometers of fire breaks were opened up and 135 lookout towers were set up to improve the early discovery and suppression of fire. Firefighting capabilities in both Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia were improved by establishing a responsibility system, expanding roads to inaccessible areas, and improving the organization, mobilization, training, and equipment of the fire brigades. In the spring of 1990, only 14 fire alarms were reported - eight times fewer than in 1988, which had been the best year in fire prevention. The incidence of fires decreased 37 percent. But the danger of fire remains, as the forest corporations in Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia have not yet reached their full capability for handling large fires in inaccessible areas.

The Da Xing An Ling Forest Fire Rehabilitation Project is a remarkable achievement in terms of timber salvaging and improving fire management. It made national and regional political leaders and government decisionmakers focus on the need for a priority salvage operation and rehabilitation program. It mobilized widespread support for tree planting, seedling protection, and the regeneration of highly fire-resistant indigenous species. The program succeeded because of the government’s commitment to it, a commitment that made massive mobilization possible. The project strongly emphasized the need for proven regeneration techniques, increasing the rate of industrial plantation, accelerating research on regeneration, harvesting and using timber resources more efficiently, and developing effective fire prevention capabilities.