Addressing the risks of natural disasters to infrastructure has become a priority for Latin America. Each year, the Caribbean is pummeled by hurricanes, while other areas of the region see devastating earthquakes, such as those that have occurred in recent years in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador.

According to the latest data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), global temperatures reached a new record in 2016, since records started being kept in 1870. The second hottest year on record was registered in 2015, and the third, 2017. Global warming has already led to greater glacial melt, and has exacerbated forest fires, flooding and droughts. Meanwhile, El Niño and La Niña events unleash heavy rains and landslides, and also lead to intense droughts.

In addition to the significant losses in human lives, these events cause considerable economic damage by destroying infrastructure, including roads, bridges, public buildings and water and sanitation systems. All these physical assets today represent a significant portion of the capital stock of each of the countries and of the portfolios of public and private investment in progress.

The report Macroeconomic Impact of Disasters due to the Occurrence of Natural Events in Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and published in 2017 by the Latin American Economic System (SELA), indicates that during the period 1960-2016, 2,269 disasters occurred in the region (17% of the world total), in which 285 million people were affected.

In the same period, according to the SELA study, the economic damage caused by natural disasters reached US$212 billion in Latin America, a figure that represents 7% of the total recorded worldwide. The largest regional losses were suffered by the South American countries (45%) and Mexico (22%). The document argues that in the 1980-2014 period, economic damages from disasters averaged 0.25% of regional annual GDP.

According to a March 15 report from the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac), Latin America and the Caribbean produce only 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is a region that is particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

The region could lose between 1.4% and 4.3% of GDP during the second half of this century if global temperatures rise 2.5°C, while adaptation measures would only cost between 0.29% and 0.37% of GDP per year until 2050, according to Eclac.

On a similar note, the World Bank warned in a March 19 study that Latin America's "internal climate migrants" could reach 17 million, or 2.6% of the regional population, as climate changes begins to affect local infrastructure, water availability and crop productivity.

The rise in sea levels, increases in temperatures and the increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, together with geological phenomena such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, will continue to occur and this poses many challenges in terms of investment and management.

Disaster risk from natural causes and weather events could significantly increase the costs of the investment necessary to develop sustainable and resilient infrastructure. But it also provides opportunities from innovative developers and policy makers.


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