Geological hazards – or geohazards, natural or human-induced disruptions of the earth surface that may trigger landslides, sinkholes, or earthquakes, present serious threats to communities, cost extensive damage to infrastructure and can bring traffic and services to a standstill.
Most geohazards are linked to climate activity such as rainfall and thawing of ice or snow. In many places, recent climatic changes have increased the intensity of rainfall and raised mean temperature, increasing hydrological hazards, such as debris or earth flows, erosion, and floods.
South Asia is particularly vulnerable to geohazards. A study completed in 2012 found that from 1970 to 2000, the number of geohazards quadrupled in the region, resulting in damages of over $25 billion in 2008-2012 alone.
This week, the World Bank Group and its partners will gather at a first-of-its-kind South-to-South learning workshop to devise practical solutions to help South Asia become more resilient to landslide and geo-hazard risks.
In 2003, Meiko Nishimizu, the World Bank Vice President for South Asia at the time, referred to Kathmandu as “an island of prosperity in a sea of poverty that is Nepal”. This was a time when the country was besieged with a violent conflict, with the state struggling to keep control of urban areas while rebels and security forces locked horns in the countryside. Her invocation of Martin Luther King Jr’s quote that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” must have resonated deeply with those in Kathmandu, especially those that may have associated inequality with the rise of the conflict.
Thirteen years on, as we think about Nepal’s progress on poverty reduction since then, it is appropriate to reflect on inequality and how it has evolved during this period. Has every Nepali benefitted from the living standards improvements that have been realized in the country? Or have some been left behind?
In the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015, Santoshi Rana of Bihani, a social venture working with elderly community members in Kathmandu, noticed that many efforts engaged the youth in relief and recovery activities. “Our elderly were completely left out of the equation, and were treated as passive beneficiaries in need of care.” So she took to the Internet to see what resources she could find. She came across a World Bank-Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) report, “Elders Leading the Way to Resilience,” which assessed the impact of Ibasho café, an elder-led recovery effort in Ofunato, Japan, following the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) in 2011.
Ibasho: a Japanese approach to community resilience
In Ofunato, elder community members planned and built the Ibasho Café, which serves as a hub to restore the fabric of a community badly damaged by the GEJE disaster. Ibasho Café is an informal gathering place that brings the community together. All generations connect in that space, with children coming to read books in the English library, older people teaching the young how to make traditional foods, younger people helping their elders navigate computer software, etc. With the elderly actively engaged in the operation of the Ibasho café, the place helps build social capital and resilience, while changing people’s mindsets about aging. The café runs as a sustainable business and, over time, has developed a noodle shop, an organic farm, and a farmers market to further support its operation.
In 2014-2015, GFDRR supported the documentation of the Ibasho experience in Japan. Learning about this experience, Santoshi realized the elders and women of her community could also lead the way, and reached out to Emi Kiyota, head of Ibasho, the NGO that facilitated the process in Ofunato.
The year 2015 was rough on Nepal. The catastrophic earthquakes that struck the country in April/May caused widespread destruction of life and property and was followed by disruptions in the south that brought cross-border trade with India to a complete standstill for 4 months. As dramatic as these recent shocks have been, Nepal is no stranger to conflict and fragility. A 10-year violent Maoist conflict ended in 2006 but the ensuing years of drafting a new constitution were turbulent; politics often dominating the discourse as opposed to economics. But despite these unfavorable odds, Nepal made rather surprising progress on improving living standards and reducing poverty.
Between 1995 and 2010, absolute poverty – measured as the proportion of people living below the national poverty line of Rs.19,261 per person per year – declined steadily by around 2.2 percentage points a year. This helped the country meet the MDG target of halving income poverty by 2015 quite comfortably. Living standards improvements were realized not just based on income or consumption but also along multidimensional measures of well-being that take into account access to essential services such as education, health and drinking water and sanitation. What was behind this progress on poverty reduction Nepal achieved amidst a violent conflict and a tumultuous post-conflict recovery?
October 17 is the international day to end poverty. There has been much progress toward this important milestone: the World Bank Group’s latest numbers show that since 1990 nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, around 100 million people moved out of extreme poverty. That’s around a quarter of a million people every day. This is cause for optimism.
But extreme poverty and the wrenching circumstances that accompany it persist. Half the world's extreme poor now live in sub-Saharan Africa, and another third live in South Asia. Worldwide nearly 800 million people were still living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which we have global numbers. Half of these are children. Most have nearly no education. Many of the world's poor are living in fragile and conflict afflicted countries. In a world in which so many have so much, it is unacceptable that so many have so little.
Just over half of the rural population in Nepal lives within 2 kilometers of a road in good or fair condition as measured by the Rural Access Index (RAI) in 2015, leaving around 10.3 million rural residents without easy access. The map shows how the RAI varies across the country: in the southern lowlands, where both road and population density are high, the RAI is around 80 percent in some districts. In the more rugged northern regions, lower road density and poor road quality leave many disconnected, resulting in a low RAI figure – in many places less than 20 percent.