Disaster economics

Source: The New Yorker
Author: James Surowiecki

On February 1, 1953, a fierce, sustained storm created a huge surge in the North Sea off the coast of Holland. Floodwaters overtopped the dikes, swallowing half a million acres of land and killing nearly two thousand people. Within weeks of the storm, a government commission issued what came to be known as the Delta Plan, a set of recommendations for flood-control measures. Over the next four decades, the Dutch invested billions of guilders in a vast set of dams and barriers, culminating in the construction of the Maeslant Barrier, an enormous movable seawall to protect the port of Rotterdam. Since the Delta Plan went into effect, the Netherlands has not been flooded by the sea again.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which brought havoc to the Northeast and inflicted tens of billions of dollars in damage, it’s overwhelmingly clear that parts of the U.S. need a Delta Plan of their own. Sandy was not an isolated incident: only last year, Hurricane Irene caused nearly sixteen billion dollars in damage, and there is a growing consensus that extreme weather events are becoming more common and more damaging. The annual cost of natural disasters in the U.S. has doubled over the past two decades. Instead of just cleaning up after disasters hit, we would be wise to follow the Dutch, and take steps to make them less destructive in the first place. Read more >