Eduardo Martinez, President of the UPS Foundation, on the need to work together and plan in advance to better withstand disasters.

The largest investments in resilience come immediately after a catastrophic event and tail off soon after, but the risks do not. In an increasingly interdependent global community, the cascading effects become more uncertain and more serious.

An estimated 200 million people were affected by natural disasters in 2011. They cost the world economy US$ 366 billion that year, the costliest in history, according to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters.

As Members of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Catastrophic Risk, we are advocating a more systematic and cross-sector approach to dealing with catastrophic risks that engages the private and public sectors and civil society.

There has been a dramatic increase in the level of collaboration between sectors to improve humanitarian logistics. After the 2004 Asian tsunami disaster, for example, several World Economic Forum Member companies collaborated to improve their humanitarian response efforts. Integrated into the UN Logistics Cluster and led by the World Food Programme, Logistics Emergency Teams (LETs) of highly trained logistics professionals are deployed within 48 hours of a disaster to support humanitarian relief organizations’ efforts. UPS, TNT Express, Agility and A.P. Moller – Maersk have all put aside competition to become an effective partnership in response to some of the world’s most devastating disasters. This is only a small example of the collaborative approach that is so desperately needed to mitigate the impact of future disasters.

Unfortunately, responding after the event is often too late. However, the model of collaboration can be inspiration for others to build resilience through investment before it happens – by building the capacity of communities and organizations to withstand disasters.

Although we do not all live in earthquake zones or flood-prone areas we are still – and increasingly – vulnerable to their cascading effects. We are probably more directly vulnerable to some other kind of catastrophic risk. Perhaps it will be the collapse of a currency, economic or financial turmoil, or the increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics that will be the next major event. Perhaps some of the IT technology or the information we find on the Internet, and upon which we depend, will fail us. We must do all we can to reduce the impact and respond effectively to make sure that if the worst happens it does not escalate into a catastrophe.

Eduardo Martinez is President of the UPS Foundation and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Catastrophic Risk.