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Climate Change

How can Sri Lanka better protect its people against disasters?

Thomas Walker's picture
A recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050
A recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050

Sri Lanka has a long history of coping with weather impacts.  

About two thousand years ago, the country built one of the world’s first irrigation system to control its water supply.

This feat of engineering, which boasted hundreds of kilometers of channels, tanks, and innovative valve pits, helped the great kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa flourish into sophisticated societies and protect their people against hunger.

Not unlike these early civilizations, modern social protection programs have sheltered those affected by disaster through financial assistance and other forms of support.

Today, building resilience to natural disasters and other shocks is more critical than ever.

Since 1980, the frequency of natural disasters worldwide has increased by 250 percent, and the number of affected people has more than doubled.

Sri Lanka is no exception. The country ranked fourth most vulnerable to climate change in 2016.

Further to that, a recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050.

The losses caused by significant shocks like natural disasters have long-lasting consequences.

Children, especially, can suffer permanent damages if they are not educated or fed correctly in their critical early years.  

And the loss of assets, livestock, and crops can severely hurt small business owners and farmers and further discourage them from investing.

Sadly, natural disasters hit the poor the hardest as they tend to live in disaster-prone areas, work in agriculture, and usually don’t have savings or access to credit.

When a shock hits, wellbeing declines as people cut back on food and other essentials due to their loss of income or the high cost of rebuilding their homes.

And while some people gradually restore their standards of living, some never fully recover and get stuck in poverty.

But the poor aren’t the only ones who need to worry about shocks.

Today, a third of Sri Lankans are just a shock away from falling into poverty.

Our analysis of the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey reveals that a 20 percent sudden decrease in household welfare—or consumption shock—would more than double the poverty rate: almost 1 in 10 Sri Lankans would be poor.

If the shock triggered a 50 percent decrease in consumption, one in three Sri Lankan families would fall into poverty.

When will transport start making headlines?

Shokraneh Minovi's picture
Photo: Phil Wong/Flickr
In case you haven’t heard, plastic straws are bad news for the planet. This much was made clear over the summer as a surge of anti-straw sentiment spread across many countries. News channels all over the world highlighted how this small and light piece of hollow plastic has been contaminating the oceans and posing a risk to the environment. Outcry was swift and decisive. Practically overnight, countless individuals vowed never to use them again. Even beverage industry giant Starbucks decided to eliminate plastic straws by 2020!  
 
Interestingly, straws make up a fairly small share of the overall plastic pollution in our oceans, especially compared to other sources of plastic waste such as fishing nets and gear. Still, every small piece of plastic that does not end up contaminating the environment is a win. But what’s truly remarkable here is how the global community rallied behind a simple and impactful change, and then followed through with it.
 
The whole campaign about plastic straws and the quick reaction that ensued got me thinking about what a “plastic straw moment” could look like for the transport sector. What small change can we all take to get the world to rally behind transport?

Here’s what everyone should know about waste

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture



Solid waste management is a universal issue that affects every single person in the world.

As you can see in our new report, What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, if we don’t manage waste properly, it can harm our health, our environment, and even our prosperity.

Poorly managed waste is contaminating the world’s oceans, clogging drains and causing flooding, transmitting diseases, increasing respiratory problems from burning, harming animals that consume waste unknowingly, and affecting economic development such as through tourism.

Without urgent action, these issues will only get worse. Here’s what everyone should know.

 

A disaster that could have been avoided: Enhancing resilience with land and geospatial data

Alvaro Federico Barra's picture
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
(Photos: Robert Reid and Ivan Bruce / World Bank)

On August 14, 2017, after three days of intense rain, a massive side slope of the Sugar Loaf – the highest mountain in the north of Sierra Leone’s Western Area Peninsula – collapsed and slipped into the Babadorie River Valley.

The mudslide affected about 6,000 people. Up to 1,141 of them were declared dead or missing. The deadly disaster also caused major destruction of infrastructure near the capital city of Freetown.

What caused the slope to collapse? A complex set of factors, such as record-breaking rainfall and nature of the slope, may have contributed to the incident. However, many expert assessments suggest it was mainly "a man-made disaster" due to the rapid urbanization and expansion of Freetown – coupled with poor urban planning.

Like most West African cities, Freetown is plagued with unregulated building structures, residential housing in disaster-prone hilltop areas, and unplanned settlements that intensify deforestation and increase the risk of mudslides. To make things worse, many of the properties affected by the August 2017 mudslide were encroaching on the Western Area National Park, a forest reserve that still holds one of the last reserves of unspoiled forest in Sierra Leone.

Transport and climate change: Putting Argentina’s resilience to the test

Verónica Raffo's picture
Also available in: Spanish


Would you imagine having to evacuate your village by boat because the only road that takes you to your school and brings the goods is flooded?

In February 2018, the fiction became reality for some residents in the province of Salta, northern Argentina, after heavy rains caused the Bermejo and Pilcomayo river to overflow. The flooding resulted in one fatality, required the evacuation of hundreds of residents, and washed a segment of Provincial Route 54, leaving the village of Santa Victoria del Este completely stranded.

Similarly, a segment of National Route 5 in one of the main corridors of Mercosur has been impassable for more than a year because the level of the Picassa lagoon keeps rising due to extreme rainfall and lack of coordination among provinces on how to deal with excess water flows. The expansion of the lagoon is forcing 4,000 vehicles a day to make a 165-km detour, and adds one transit day for the 1,560 freight trains running every year between Buenos Aires and Mendoza. The flooding is dragging the economy behind and inflating already high logistics costs.

As a matter of fact, a recent World Bank study put the cost of damages and disruptions like these at an estimated 0.34% of GDP a year for riverine flooding, plus 0.32% of the GDP for urban flooding.

To address these risks, Argentina’s Ministry of Transport started a dialogue with the World Bank to explore ways of reducing the vulnerability of the network.

Why understanding disaster risk matters for sustainable development

Sameh Wahba's picture

Risk financing, social protection, seismic risk, and open data – these are just some of the key themes that have drawn hundreds of urban resilience and disaster risk management experts and practitioners to Belgrade, Serbia this week for Understanding Risk (UR) Balkans.
 

World Ozone Day: Taking stock of what it means to stay cool

Emilia Battaglini's picture

Read the Chinese version of this blog



Blogging from the Commemoration event for the 2018 International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer in Beijing, China.

Have you suffered heat stress this summer? If not, you were lucky. Depending on where you live and how wealthy you are, a sweltering and humid couple of days can either be an opportunity to catch up with paperwork in an air-conditioned room, or they can literally mean the difference between life and death. Too much heat can kill you.

Three innovative approaches for managing disaster risks

Emma Phillips's picture

When Dara Dotz, an industrial designer, travelled to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, she saw firsthand the supply chain challenges people were facing that had life threatening consequences – most vividly, a nurse having to use her medical gloves to tie off the umbilical cords of newborn babies, because she didn’t have access to an umbilical clamp. Deploying a 3D printer, Dara was able to design a locally manufactured, inexpensive plastic clamp that could be used in the local hospitals for newborns.
 
From there, Dara co-founded Field Ready, an NGO that is part of the “maker movement,” which pilots new technologies to rapidly manufacture components of essential supplies in the field. Using 3D printing and a range of software, Field Ready works with volunteers to make lifesaving medical components like IV bag hooks, oxygen splitters, and umbilical cord clamps, an approach that has often proven to be both quicker and cheaper than waiting for shipments to arrive.


This is one example of local innovation and design in disaster situations. With trends of rising population growth, increased urbanization, and climate projections of more frequent and intense weather, more people and assets are at risk from natural hazards. Communities and governments need to think creatively and find new ways to build resilience, and some of the latest developments in science and technology can provide promising solutions.

Over the past few decades, there has been an exponential increase in the amount of information and data that is open and available – whether from satellites and drones collecting data from above, or from crowdsourced information and social media from citizens on the ground. When analyzed holistically, this data can provide valuable insight for understanding the risks and establishing a common operating picture.

One Year After the Storms: Five Ideas for Building Back Stronger in the Caribbean

Tahseen Sayed's picture
The Caribbean on the road to resilience

Technology can help Afghanistan better manage its natural disasters

Julian Palma's picture
 Rumi Consultancy / World Bank
Photo Credit: Rumi Consultancy / World Bank

To associate a gun shot with foul play seems logical. But that’s not necessarily the case in Guldara, a district nearly 40 kilometers outside of Kabul City in Afghanistan.

Gun shots typically come from communities living at the top of the mountain to warn vulnerable downhill communities of potential flooding from the Guldara river. The Guldara river is both a blessing and a curse for the local communities.

Its water is the main source of livelihood since nearly 75 percent of the local economy depends on agriculture. It is also a threat to life and assets. In March 2017, when the mountain snow melted, heavy floods killed two children and washed away the only road that connects the city with Kabul.


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