Epidemics lead world’s biggest short-term risks: World Economic Forum

LONDON (Reuters) – Infectious diseases and livelihood crises led the rankings of risks expected to pose a critical threat to the world in the next two years, according to a survey of more than 650 World Economic Forum (WEF) members from business, government and academia.

Extreme weather events and cybersecurity failure were also key risks, WEF said in an annual risks report on Tuesday.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a devastating impact on many livelihoods, as global lockdowns have led to job losses and business closures. It has also exacerbated issues such as increasing inequalities over access to technology and the threat of civil unrest.

“The pandemic has accelerated trends that have been coming for a long time,” said Carolina Klint, risk management leader, Continental Europe, at insurance broker Marsh.

Medium-term worries include burst asset bubbles and debt crises, the report found, while the biggest long-term concerns were of the use of weapons of mass destruction and of state collapses.

“As governments, businesses and societies begin to emerge from the pandemic, they must now urgently shape new economic and social systems that improve our collective resilience and capacity to respond to shocks while reducing inequality, improving health and protecting the planet,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the WEF.

Peter Giger, chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance, remained optimistic about rebuilding after the pandemic.

“The history of the economy suggests that every major structural change has led to higher employment,” he said.

The world’s leaders will hold a virtual Davos Agenda event next week, instead of the traditional January event in Switzerland, and a face-to-face meeting in Singapore in May.

The report was compiled together with insurance companies Zurich and Marsh & McLennan and South Korea’s SK Group.

(Reporting by Carolyn Cohn; Editing by Bernadette Baum)