Two stark trends are becoming ever-more present in today’s world: rapid urbanization, and a growing number and intensity of hazardous events related to climate change. The combination of these two forces makes for an increasing exposure to risk for people, the economy and the environment. The global crisis caused by the spread of the novel coronavirus is an unmistakeable example of how human settlement and movement patterns can worsen the impact of hazards and lead to crises.
New recommendations published by UNECE guide countries to make the most of data and statistics to mitigate against these growing risks and to improve responses when disasters happen. They also offer guidance to improve such statistics.
Managing the risk of disasters is a responsibility usually taken on by specialized agencies or ministries—often with little or no involvement from national statistical offices. Yet statistics are vital for managing risks and responding when disaster strikes. Reliable information about the population, the economy and agriculture is crucial both for risk management and preparedness, and for responding to disasters. Knowing where the most vulnerable people are located, for example, helps to ensure that they receive the most urgent assistance, while the impacts on the economy and infrastructure in the aftermath of a disaster also require detailed statistics, often with a spatial dimension. As the coronavirus outbreak unfolds across the world, accurate information about where older populations are concentrated permits targeted efforts to ramp up health care provision, while official economic statistics will be vital to analyze the longer-term impacts on societies.
The potential of official data from national statistical offices is also seen in the recent use of information from Statistics Canada for helping emergency responders in the wake of a record-breaking snowstorm. Knowing the location of older people, those living alone and those whose homes were older and potentially more at risk of damage was crucial in targeting the response efficiently. A number of national experiences have helped inform the development of the new UNECE recommendations.
In times of disaster we want numbers quickly, and for some purposes this speed may be more of a priority than the accuracy that usually characterizes official statistics. The recommendations propose adaptations to make statistics more fit for purpose, for example by adjusting this trade-off to reduce time-lags, as well as improving their usability for small-scale analysis by adding spatial information, while at the same time preserving statistical confidentiality.
Global policy frameworks to reduce and mitigate disaster risk, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, include monitoring frameworks which clearly depend on robust data. The new recommendations give improved clarity to the role of national official statistical systems in meeting the needs of these monitoring frameworks. They offer practical steps that can be taken to increase coordination among agencies and improve disaster risk management, and call for national statistical offices to take a more active role in contributing to the global system on measuring hazardous events and disasters.
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