Governments' Disaster Response Plans Neglect Non-Economic Damages, Losses

Andrew Burger

The devastation from hurricane Dorian highlights the lack of planning and consideration in government response to non-economic loss and overall human well-being from climate disruption.

Government authorities worldwide aren't considering the non-economic damages and losses caused by the displacement of large numbers of people due to disasters in their policy-making, a seemingly gross oversight, according to new research to be published in Climate Policy. The topic is a very timely one, especially in light of the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian striking the Bahamas this past week.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) describes non-economic losses "as those that are not commonly traded in markets, including loss of life, health, territory, traditional knowledge, culture, biodiversity, ecosystem services, as well as climate-induced displacement," the report authors write.  These include damage to and loss of property, including physical artifacts and sacred places, as well as community-centered buildings and land.

Such non-economic losses in turn can damage or cause the loss of intangibles, such as cultural values, traditions, sense of identity and loss of sense of place, the report authors point out. Furthermore, "non-economic losses can occur at a variety of spatial scales, and for many developing countries, these losses may be more significant than economic ones," they highlight.

A gross, costly oversight

Despite this, government authorities rarely include non-economic losses in their assessments of climate change impacts, risk analyses and policy-making, the report authors found. Furthermore, displacement is particularly challenging for small island developing states (SIDS) due to their vulnerability to tropical hurricanes, typhoons and other cyclonic storms, they highlight.

The researchers point to devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean in 2017 "that exposed non-economic loss and damage associated with prolonged displacement of entire island populations due to complete destruction of communities."

They zoom in on the case of the Bahamas' Ragged Island, where the entire population was displaced, as an example. They assess "national policies, plans, legislation and reports in order to determine non-economic losses and damages experienced by displaced residents and how the policy landscape addresses these issues," the researchers explain.

The researchers found that neither government policy or actions took non-economic losses and damages even though health impacts and disruptions to sense of place and connection to the island were likely. That failure contributed to assessments that the costs of rebuilding outweighed benefits, they highlighted.

"While existing literature has acknowledged policy deficiencies on loss and damage at the national level in SIDS, this study illustrates real-world impacts of these deficiencies. The case of Ragged Island highlights the need for SIDS to take the lead in developing national responses to loss and damage as they are currently experiencing severe impacts, which are intensified by the lack of clear policies, plans or strategies," the researchers concluded.

Key policy insights

  • Climate-induced displacement is linked to non-economic loss and damage, particularly when displacement is prolonged and due to extreme events. However, these impacts are rarely addressed in national policies, plans or strategies.
  • National policies that address climate-induced displacement and non-economic loss and damage are critical in order to reduce impacts experienced by displaced communities and expand feasibility assessments of rebuilding to include more than economic considerations.
  • SIDS are currently experiencing non-economic loss and damage and should take the lead in developing national policies and strategies to assess, address and report on these impacts, particularly those SIDS that rely on international funders for recovery and response to extreme events.

Humanity In The Anthropocene


Thomas Schueneman