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Society Needs to Flip Its Disaster Spending, Insurance Report Says

Communities are spending money on disasters at the wrong time: after the damage has been done, not before.

That is the central theme Zurich Insurance Group takes in a recently released report that draws conclusions about natural disaster mitigation by analyzing a series of 12 events—floods, storms and hurricanes—since the summer of 2013.

In its study, the global insurer found that every $1 spent on “disaster resilience” saves $5 in limiting future costs, including post-storm cleanup efforts.

Even though spending money up front to brace for natural disasters saves money in the long run, communities notoriously underfund proactive steps, according to Zurich.

The report comes as U.S. government agencies are gearing up for what experts say will be another busy hurricane season, marked by severe flooding in coastal cities due in part to El Niño conditions expected to emerge in the Pacific Ocean.

High-tide flood levels may be up to 60 percent greater in coastal regions this year than they were roughly 20 years ago, and 100 percent larger than 30 years ago, NOAA scientists saidWednesday.

At the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters last week, when he received an update on preparations for the hurricane season, President Trump thanked Brock Long, the agency’s administrator, for his response to the hurricanes that battered Puerto Rico last year.

The death toll on the island, where more than 4,500 were killed due to Hurricane Maria, according to one tally, did not come up (Climatewire, May 30).

The official death count from the U.S. government is far lower: 64 people, as of last year.

The Zurich report notes that when government agencies spend money, they often do so on buildings and commercial hubs, rather than on wetlands protection or reforestation efforts, which may be a better use of the cash.

“Where money is invested on prevention, it typically goes to protecting physical structures rather than more cost-effective risk management such as environmental planning,” the report reads. “The use of environmental planning techniques to manage flood waters,” it says, “by such measures as reforestation in upper watersheds and static or controlled water retention areas, has been shown to be highly effective.”

The head of Zurich’s North American division said human choices increase the damage after catastrophe.

“Coming off 2017 with three major hurricanes—Harvey, Irma and Maria—and what we just saw last week with subtropical storm Alberto, our findings are grounded in the perspective that while hazards are natural, disasters are not,” Kathleen Savio, CEO of Zurich North America, said last week.

In April, Long defended FEMA’s decision to omit language about climate change from its latest organization plan, which does not include the terms “climate” or “warming.”

Writing to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who had written FEMA to ask about its climate omission, Long said, “Allow me to reassure you that although that specific language is not included, the plan emphasizes all aspects of disaster preparedness, regardless of cause.”

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.

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