Perspectives on Avoidable Deaths

Perspectives on Avoidable Deaths – Professor Michael Peterson

Short interviews were conducted to gain multiple perspectives on avoidable deaths.

Dr Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett interviewed two ADN’s Advisors Mr David Wales and Professor Michael Peterson in 2021 to gain multiple perspectives on avoidable deaths.  Please read Professor Michael Peterson’s interview transcript below. To read Mr David Wales’, please click here.

Professor Mike Petterson is a geoscientist, currently at Auckland University of Technology, NZ.  He previously held Professorial/Senior Leadership positions at the British Geological Survey, University of Leicester, UK, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), and University of the South Pacific (Fiji). Much of Mike’s career has been involved with  international development particularly in areas such as institutional strengthening, capacity building, training & education, & technical geoscience.  Experience in South & Central Asia, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean/South America has provided firm foundations for the accrual of knowledge in ‘interconnected geoscience’: how geoscience alongside other disciplines, with appropriate world views, can add the greatest value to development-related interventions.

Professor Michael Peterson’s Interview Transcript:

1. Do you believe it is possible to achieve the Sendai Framework’s first two global targets?  First target is to substantially reduce disaster mortality by 2030; and the second target is to substantially reduce the number of affected people by 2030).

As we know, the two global targets aim to: 1) lower global disaster mortality by 2030 so that the 2020-2030 per 100,00 death rate is less than 2005-2015 per 100,00 death rate, and 2) undertake the same statistical delivery for globally affected people. 

When we look at the graphs  presented in the World Meteorological Organisation’s Report, titled: ‘WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from weather, climate and water extremes'(1970-2019), there are some clear trends and excellent data from the World Meteorological Organisation on which to base an evidence-based response. These data address hydro-meteorological hazards, which are the most abundant non-biological/medical hazard type and are predicted to increase, as climate change injects more energy into the ocean-atmosphere-climate-system. Trends observed within the hydro-meteorological hazard data will have resonance with other hazard types.

The WMO data trends are clear: 1) deaths are falling quite steeply with time, in spite of the fact that disaster events are increasing with time; 2) losses due to disasters are increasing with time, and; 3) most disaster related deaths (82%) occur in Lower-Middle and Low-Income Countries whilst most economic losses occur in the richer countries.

These data do suggest that the global target for reducing disaster-related deaths should indeed be met, and even exceeded. 

However, in terms of social equity and justice, by far the greatest burden of morbidity falls on the poorer sections of the world, and this aspect clearly need addressing, and placed into sharper focus.

Economic losses will probably always be larger in economic terms for richer countries, simply because the rich have far more to lose in $$ terms than the poor, and this will always be the case.

Predictions for the numbers of people affected by disasters are the opposite of morbidity. The SFDRR target 2 is unlikely to be met. The numbers of hydro-meteorological hazards are predicted to increase, as are the areas affected, and numbers of people affected by hydro-met hazards.  We have seen from Covid-19 that pandemic related hazards can rapidly cause worldwide impacts, affecting billions of people one way or another (as I write I am one of the millions in lockdown worldwide for example). Geophysical hazards will stay at similar numbers than historically and can have high magnitude impacts: increasingly so in a more highly and densely populated world.   

2. In no more than 2 sentences what is the most effective way to achieve the Sendai Framework’s first two targets?

Target 1) is being achieved but a sharper focused target relating to global social justice needs added and actioned.  Target 2): live with the world’s environment, reduce human hubris, learn from deep geological time, reduce global human population, and plan for the 1 in a 1000/10 000 year event as normal planning, e.g. as is done for earthquakes.

3. In your opinion which organisation should take a lead in achieving the SDRR’s first two targets?

I am not sure that my opinion is of particular importance here.  However, since asked:  The only world body capable of influencing (a little) global behaviour is the United Nations.  The UN must take the lead.  However, the UN can be quite ineffective as it has no ‘teeth’ and therefore it must be down to individual countries and regional organisations.  Regional organisations in Africa, South America, South & South East Asia, the Pacific islands, the Caribbean and so on may be the more effective pan-regional organisations. The European Union as a collective of 27 richer countries surely can play a bigger part than it often does in global leadership. The voice of the South MUST be heard and acted upon more than to date.  If it is not then the big countries, as always will dominate the debate, and leadership.

4. Are you aware of good practices to reduce avoidable deaths and affected people?

On a local scale I am impressed with practices I came across in the Ladakh region of India.  Here, for example, they build ‘artificial glaciers’ called ‘ice stupas’ to store water in highland areas to help address the trend in increased glacial melting, and provide more continuous water supplies for local people.  Indigenous people in general still respect (indeed are a part of) the land, the oceans and resources, and tend to practice real sustainable development for whole communities, which, in the end, reduces risk.  NGOs such as Geology for Global Development provide non-elitest, non-exclusive, Global North & South collaborative opportunities for volunteers to actively participate in risk-reduction activities. I would strongly advocate for any process or movement that genuinely opens up and democratises DRR practices, behaviours, and decision making: as with many areas in this world, the more voiceless and powerless (who are often the main victims), can be left out of DRR activities.  I advocate for learning from Deep Time and all the environments we are aware of on Earth through its 4.6 billion years of existence, instead of over-relying only on the past few centuries or millennia of data.  Deep Time has seen most things before, and tells us that what we label currently as ‘extreme’ is in fact, no surprise. Finally, any movement, at any level, that advocates for an economic system that rewards in terms of positive planetary rather than financial outcomes first, and (incredibly importantly) targets global population reduction as an extremely high priority.  We have blindly grown from 2 to 8 billion in 70 years,  AND become a highly consuming species: surely it is well over time to address perhaps the main root cause of many global issues?

5. Why should we reduce avoidable deaths and affected people?

Morally, to reduce all forms of suffering in this world. Practically, to allow many countries and regions to maintain progress without being regularly knocked back through disasters. And, in terms of the human spirit, to further engender collaboration, co-operation and human sharing.

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