The recent series of devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean has reminded the world, once again, that natural disasters are not equal-opportunity destroyers. The economically marginalized and those lacking secure land and property rights are often disproportionately affected for at least three reasons:
- First, without secure property rights, they typically lack the long-term incentive and access to credit to build safe, resilient houses.
- Second, they can be reluctant to flee their homes to safe areas, fearing they won’t be allowed to return.
- Finally, they are less likely to be the recipients of government risk mitigation or recovery efforts. Government recovery efforts – no matter how well intentioned – rarely reach those most in need. After the floods and landslides in Nepal in 2011, for example, only 6% of the poorest received government support – compared to almost 90% of the well off.
The increasing frequency of natural disasters with tragic human consequences should also serve as reminders that resources spent on disaster risk reduction (DRR) are much more effective at saving lives and property loss. Yes, despite substantial evidence that reducing disaster risk is more cost-effective than responding to disasters, expenditures for disaster response and reconstruction exceed spending on disaster risk reduction and preparedness at a rate of about 20 to 1.
To overcome that spending gap will require innovative thinking on a time-tested idea. Governments, the World Bank, and other donors are doing the right thing when trying to devote more resources to disaster risk reduction – and to make land and property rights reforms part of a multi-faceted DRR strategy. In doing so, they would do even better by recognizing that those rights exist in three dimensions, encompassing not just the ground beneath our feet but to the space above (and below) it.