The need for disaster relief in North America is arguably more pressing now than at in any time in recent memory. Dating back to the devastation wrought by the Fort McMurray wildfires, Canada has experienced an ugly string of blazes, floods, and other natural disasters. The United States is still reeling from one of the most overwhelming hurricane seasons ever. Whether these are signs of a disturbing trend in its infancy or just a historical blip, it is clear that people need to embrace whatever disaster prevention solutions they can identify.
According to many experts, the best defense against natural disasters is actually an investment in the force that summons them in the first place: nature.
"As communities across North America confront these disasters, nature is demonstrating that it can be one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to fight climate change and adapt to a future that promises even more extreme climate-related impacts," writes Stephanie Cairns, director of Cities and Communities with the Smart Prosperity Institute, for The Globe and Mail.
"We're learning that working with nature is more cost-effective and efficient in the long run."
Cairns brings up wetlands as a prominent example of how that strategy can be true. She cites a recent study that details how wetlands saved millions of dollars in damages during disasters such as Hurricane Sandy (2012) and the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004), and commends Toronto for adopting $1.25-billion naturalization project on the Don Valley river that will fortify the area against flooding. Other natural assets, such as forests, estuaries, bays, and intertidal vegetation, can have a major impact in mitigating damage as well, she says.
No community in Canada has incorporated this strategy of natural asset investment more than Gibsons, B.C. Beginning in 2014, the small coastal town began integrating those assets into its operations and financial planning system in the same way that it does for engineered assets. Estimates show that it has already been able to lower potential replacement costs in the event of an emergency by millions of dollars.