Can good come from a disaster? Missouri S&T Professor, Dan Oerther hopes so. He’s working with a team of development professionals and finance experts across the Caribbean to answer this question. As the cleanup from Hurricane Harvey continues, and we assess the devastation from Hurricane Irma, many are asking, ‘Is there any way to avoid such devastation?’

Can good come from a disaster? Missouri S&T Professor, Dan Oerther hopes so. He’s working with a team of development professionals and finance experts across the Caribbean to answer this question.  As the cleanup from Hurricane Harvey continues, and we assess the devastation from Hurricane Irma, many are asking,  ‘Is there any way to avoid such devastation?’  Resilience is the buzzword being tossed around by professionals working on this question, and Oerther is at the forefront of these efforts.

“Finance provides a tool linking the risk of disaster with the behaviors of those most at risk,” explains Oerther.  One example is car insurance.  When a car is wrecked, insurance covers the cost of repairs.  Drivers who avoid wrecks are charged less for insurance as compared to drivers who have wrecks often.  “So, insurance provides a ‘good driver discount’, and we’re using a similar approach to promote resilience to severe storms in the Caribbean.”

Oerther is working on a project called, COAST, which stands for Caribbean Ocean and Aquaculture Sustainability faciliTy.  “It’s a mouthful,” shares Oerther, “but the bottom line is that we’re looking for ways to link discounts in hurricane insurance to behaviors that reduce the costs of damage from storms.”  COAST focuses on the fisheries industry through the Caribbean.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the Caribbean fishing industry exports nearly $300 million of product annually, with more than a quarter of this value coming from spiny lobsters harvested primarily in The Bahamas. 
“Preventing ghost fishing of lobsters is one example of a way that COAST can link storm risk with resilience,” explains Oerther.  Lobster fishing involves placing a trap on the seafloor, and attaching the trap to a buoy on the surface.  When a severe storm comes on quickly, the traps are tossed about in the surf, and the buoys become detached from the traps.  Left behind on the seafloor, the traps continue to capture lobster.  This phenomenon is called ghost fishing because derelict fishing gear captures fish without the fisherman.

Oerther asks, “What if we could provide insurance for lobster fishermen that cost less for those fishermen who avoided ghost fishing?”  Oerther believes that there are ways to link the behaviors of lobster fishermen with the risk of lost traps during severe storms, and he thinks that the COAST insurance product can provide the incentive. 

“The long-term goal is to take advantage of technologies to reduce the impact of disaster before the storm hits.  That’s the meaning of resilience,” explains Oerther.  “Fisheries will become more stable over time, fish stocks will increase, livelihoods from fishing will increase all because of an insurance product that links the risk of disasters with the behaviors of those most at risk.”

In the long run, Oerther hopes that products such as COAST will better prepare people, communities, and nations to survive disasters, and to bounce back better prepared for the future. “We’ve all heard the phrase, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” he said.

“Our effort is all about turning that phrase into a reality.”