Despite Asia’s dramatic economic progress since the 1960s, the region remains vulnerable to the threat of hazards turning into disasters. Continued exposure to a wide range of disaster risk—both from natural and technological or human-made hazards—can undermine the region’s success in economic development and poverty reduction over the past 50 years. The global health and economic costs from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic attests to the severe impact from these threats, and to what can be destabilizing if not catastrophic characteristics of disasters. As of 31 December 2020, COVID-19 had afflicted more than 80 million people worldwide, caused about 1.8 million deaths, and set back global economic output by at least 2.5 years.
The widespread global effects from the pandemic show that disasters can destroy livelihoods and businesses, displace workers, and kill thousands of people. The impact is usually worse for developing economies, and for the most disadvantaged segments of society. Hence, there has been a growing awareness and acceptance in the region that understanding and addressing disaster risk are imperative to protect and sustain Asia’s long-term development. And mitigating these risks necessitates a deep appreciation of the underlying context and relationships between the economy, society, and environment within which they occur.
Natural hazards become disasters when combined with the vulnerability and exposure of populations—harming human lives, activities, and properties. Vulnerability and exposure depend on various factors, such as poverty and inequality, urbanization, state of infrastructure, access to insurance, credit and other markets, and the unsustainable use of resources and ecosystems. Further, climate change heightens disaster risk as it changes the frequency, intensity, scope, and timing of severe weather events.
This special supplement focuses on disasters triggered by natural hazards. It is divided into two parts. The first is devoted to a discussion of disasters in general. It begins with a description of the generally rising trend of disaster risk in developing Asia since the 1960s, before dissecting the high human cost of disasters. It then discusses the drivers of disaster risk, followed by an examination of the region’s risk management and disaster resilience efforts over the past few decades.
The second part delves into how the region is navigating the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It begins with the evolution and current state of the pandemic globally. It then discusses its economic impact through 2021. It also describes policy responses by governments and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The special supplement concludes with policy lessons of disaster resilience that developing Asian economies can gain from each other’s individual and collective experiences. Regional economies can carry these lessons forward to accelerate recovery and, hopefully, build back greener, from one of the worst global health crises in recent history, and prepare them for future disaster risks.