Healthy ecosystems are nature’s barrier to hurricane damage

Why Disaster Preparedness Cannot Wait

The world has been planning for the future in the mistaken belief that it will resemble the past. But as COVID-19 coincides with cyclones in South Asia and the Pacific and vast locust swarms in East Africa, the need to prepare for a world of unexpected shocks has become clearer than ever. Epidemics, floods, storms, droughts, and wildfires are all expected to become more frequent and severe, affecting hundreds of millions of people each year.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global wake-up call. And as leaders of international organizations, we understand both the grave threat and the potential opportunity for change that it represents. In particular, COVID-19 and recent climate disasters have shown that we must step up investment in preparedness now, instead of waiting for the next crisis to hit. The choice is clear: delay and pay, or plan and prosper.

We know that investing in disaster preparedness is worth it – both in terms of human lives saved and economic returns. Research by the Global Commission on Adaptation, for example, shows that benefit-to-cost ratios for climate-adaptation…


Healthy ecosystems are nature’s barrier to hurricane damage

“Rather than straightening rivers and building higher sea walls, we need to invest more in protecting and restoring nature, which the report finds can be “equally or more effective” than conventional structures.” – Greta Moran Image credit: Mangrove forests are excellent buffers against storms Ravini/Pixabay

Soon after Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the coast of Texas in 2017, the tragically slow-moving, highly-destructive storm dumped a record-breaking amount of rain on Houston and southern Texas for days. Yet this could have been much worse for Clear Lake City, a community in southeastern Houston, which was protected by a swath of newly reclaimed wetland. Once an abandoned golf course, the area was in the process of being converted into a 200-acre park and wetland. When Harvey hit, the effort was only 80% complete, yet still able to hold 100 million gallons of water and protect 150 homes from flooding.

This is one of the examples in a new report, published on June 5th by the National Wildlife Federation, that documents the oft-overlooked capacity of natural ecosystems to protect communities from hurricanes and other natural disasters. The report, “The Protective Value of Nature,” draws upon decades of research to make the case for the “urgent need to dramatically scale up the application of natural infrastructure,” including both intact natural ecosystems, like mangroves and forests, and systems built to mimic nature, such as engineered dunes…


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