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Can governments cope after disasters?

The Greek government announced this week how it will compensate homeowners who experienced damage to their properties when fires tore through Athenian suburbs. Some €750 (£661.92) per square foot will be given for residences completely destroyed, while structures partially ruined are to receive €450 per square foot.

But according to economists, these sums weigh heavily on the country's strained budget, as there will be extra costs for reforestation and rebuilding infrastructure, said the Wall Street Journal. Despite a Greek bank saying such expenditure will only have a minor impact on public finance, it raises the question of how countries cope when a disaster affects communities and cities so badly.

The publication suggested it is time for Greece to face facts and realise that putting money into fire-fighting efforts is not the same as prevention and suitable urban planning.

"[It] has made no progress in either in the past two years," argued Costas Synolakis, professor of natural hazards at the Technical University of Crete and director of the Tsunami Research Centre at the University of Southern California. "A countrywide registry of forest land is still lacking, while a national land registry is over a decade in the making."

The question of when to provide recovery money was also noted by Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the New York City independent budget office, who said in 2002 that after 9/11, there was much attention on "getting the money now", instead of what long-term financing was needed.

In addition, the Federal Emergency Medical Agency was in charge of processing the city's reimbursement receipts – a procedure Mr Lowenstein said would "take years".

PA security and resilience expert Barry Smeaton comments: "Government and business leaders can no longer afford to leave investment decisions on measures to prevent or recover from different types of incident to functional specialists operating in their own stove-pipes. Main boards and central government must take the responsibility and move from a risk-averse to risk-aware philosophy. They must make informed decisions - whether to spend now to reduce a risk, or whether to chance that probably greater funding will have to be found to repair the infrastructure after an event.

"Expenditure on recovery will still be needed as we cannot predict every event - and could not afford to mitigate it fully anyway. Let us at least ensure that that investment builds a more resilient infrastructure for the future."

To find out more on coping after disasters, please contact us now.

Nick Newman
Defence and security
contact us now
Ritu Sharma
Defence and security
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