Ten years after the Indian Ocean tsunami swept across the coasts of Asia-Pacific we cannot accurately say how many people lost their lives. Why? Currently there is no regionally agreed set of statistics on what constitutes a disaster or how to account for the impacts of disasters.
Dr. Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) underlined the challenges this creates when she addressed experts working towards norms in this area saying, "Our region has been at the forefront of drawing global attention to the lack of disaster statistics. Harmonized, consistent and coherent statistics are critical to enable all stakeholders to make good use of disaster data to inform policy making, development planning, and to manage and structure disaster risks."
Her comments came during the opening of the Second Meeting of the Expert Group on Disaster Statistics at Tohoku University, Japan. This group of policymakers, practitioners and experts is working to create guidance on statistics that are comparable across countries and consistent over time to enable monitoring and trend analyses, including on cross-border disaster phenomena, and risks.
She noted that disaster statistics that are usually the responsibility of disaster management authorities should be linked to national statistical systems to allow more robust analyses, for example through applying existing international statistical standards such as the system of national accounts to statistics on impacts of disasters on the economy.
In practical terms this requires improving institutional arrangements for the recording of fatalities and damages at local and national levels, increasing the utility of information systems for disaster risk identification and prevention, and facilitating risk communication in and between the different stages of disaster risk management, between national and local governments, and among technical ministries.
The Expert Group links its work to the outcomes of the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction as well as to the deliberations on sustainable development goals, targets and indicators for the international development agenda beyond 2015.