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disaster preparedness

When, what, and how to survey after a disaster strikes – an experience from Tonga

Liana Razafindrazay's picture
Winny, an elementary teacher enumerating for the household survey (Uiha Island, Tonga, April 10, 2014). With the support from the Ministry of Education, 35 teachers from Ha'apai participated during the survey.

Back in March 2014, I had the opportunity to be part of a World Bank team supporting the Tongan government to develop a reconstruction policy after Tropical Cyclone Ian hit earlier this year. To implement the policy, the Ministry of Infrastructure led a series of surveys to inform housing reconstruction. This post, which does not intend to be scientific or exhaustive, is to share some of the key lessons I learned from this experience.

Damage assessments are routine in the aftermath of disasters, but they differ depending on their objectives (Hallegatte, 2012 - pdf). A rapid survey in the wake of a disaster event could help to estimate grossly the direct human and economic losses and damages. This type of survey is best to capture the amplitude and the severity of the disaster. However, such survey could present some flaws, often because the survey will be conducted in a very short time frame with minimal design. On the other hand, a survey conducted a few months after the event is best to understand better the context of the disaster. It also allows a better design and better preparation. But, equally, such survey could include biases. For instance, the time lag between the event and the survey itself could create some level of challenges. Most likely, people would have started to fix their houses or have moved away from the affected area, and that will add a layer of complexity to the survey.

Tonga: a national effort to reconstruct Ha’apai after Tropical Cyclone Ian

Liana Razafindrazay's picture
Woman with her baby in a shelter after Tropical Cyclone Ian hit the Ha'apai Islands (Haano Island, Tonga, April 9, 2014). The woman left Haano to deliver her baby in Lifuka Island (the capital of Ha'apai). When she got back, her house had been completely destroyed by the cyclone. She stays in a shelter with her baby and husband.

In the morning of January 11, 2014, after an early warning from the Department of Meteorology and the National Disaster Management Office on the upcoming category 5 tropical cyclone Ian, power and radio transmission went off on the Island of Ha’apai, one of the most populated among the 150 islands of the Tongan archipelago in the South Pacific.

The Pacific Islands are inherently prone to hazards due to their geographic location and small size. Each year Pacific Island countries experience damage and loss caused by natural disasters estimated at an average $284 million, or 1.7% of regional GDP (World Bank 2013). In the coming decades, climate change is expected to make things worse through sea level rise and more intense cyclones.

Thailand after the floods: When communities own their change

Flavia Carbonari's picture

In 2011, Thailand suffered the worst floods in half a century. The flood crisis impacted more than 13 million people. About 97,000 houses were damaged and entire villages and cities were under water for months.

House in Ayutthaya affected by the 2011 floods
House in Ayutthaya affected by the 2011 floods

Three years later, Thailand has been able to deal with the worst of the impacts but some of the poorest households are still struggling to recover. We visited 10 affected communities in Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan as part of the supervision of the Community-based Livelihood Support for Urban Poor Project (SUP). We could still see the water marks on their walls, damaged ceilings, and wobbly structures. The unrepaired houses stuck out but just as striking was the strong sense of community in the area. We were reminded that villagers came together to overcome the worst natural disaster most of them ever witnessed in their lives.

The flooding led to better disaster risk management in the neighborhoods  that are most at risk. Local governments have taken the lead. But the disaster has also, just as importantly, mobilized ordinary citizens in some of the most deprived communities. Here are some of their stories:

Managing Disaster Risk in South Asia

Marc Forni's picture

Losses due to disasters to human and physical capital are on the rise across the world.  Over the past 30 years, total losses have tripled, amounting to $3.5 trillion. While the majority of these losses were experienced in OECD countries, the trend is increasingly moving towards losses in rapidly growing states. 
 
In a sense, increasing risk and losses caused by disaster are the byproduct of a positive trend - strong development gains and economic growth. This is because disaster loss is a function of the amount of human and physical assets exposed to seismic or hydrometeorological hazards, and the level of vulnerability of the assets. The richer a country gets, the more assets it builds or acquires, and therefore the more losses it potentially faces.
 
Rapid development across South Asia signals the need to commit greater efforts to increase resilience to disaster and climate risk. It also requires governments to develop a strategy to both protect against events today and to develop strategies to address the losses of the future.  This is a challenge somewhat unique to South Asia. The losses of today, predominantly rural flooding that impacts wide swaths of vulnerable populations, will begin to diminish in relative importance to the losses of the future.

Increasing Flood Risks Create Major Challenges for World's Coastal Cities

Stéphane Hallegatte's picture

 NOAA via Wikimedia
The flooding of New Orleans, caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, illustrates the vulnerability of cities that are highly dependent on coastal defenses. Photo: NOAA [http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katrina-new-orleans-flooding3-2005.jpg]

Increasing flood risks create a major political and institutional challenge for the world’s coastal cities, as ambitious and proactive action at the local level over the next decades will be needed to avoid large-scale flood disasters. However, the implementation of flood risk management policies meets many obstacles.

In a recent study written with colleagues Colin Green, Robert Nicholls and Jan Corfee-Morlot as part of an OECD project on urban vulnerability, we estimate how flood risks could change in the future in 136 coastal cities, in response to increasing population and wealth, local environmental change, and climate change. We find that because current flood defenses and urbanization patterns have been designed for past environmental conditions, even a moderate change in sea level is sufficient to make them inadequate, thus magnifying flood losses to catastrophic levels. If no action is taken to reduce flood vulnerability, most coastal cities would become inhospitable and dangerous places to live, with annual losses in excess of US$1 trillion dollars.

What can be done?

Our analysis suggests that upgrading defenses could mitigate these losses and the impacts of rising sea levels. However, these upgrades need to include a package of risk management policies. First, coastal defenses should make use of the protection the environment can offer for free: Marshes, seagrass beds, coastal and kelp forests, and coral reefs provide natural buffers that absorb the energy from waves and storms, making it easier and cheaper to protect urban development. In addition artificial constructions are also required to provide full protection. We are not only talking about dykes: a city surrounded by dykes will need pumping systems to drain rainfall water, and a harbor will need moving barriers to let ships in and out of the port.

Saving Lives from Cyclone Mahasen in Bangladesh

Masood Ahmad's picture
While Bangladesh played host to yet another deadly cyclone on May 17th, 2013, cyclone shelters provided a critical first line of defense to thousands of poor communities living along the remote coastline of the country. A million poor people fled from their homes to seek refuge before cyclone Mahasen struck the coast.

With Sandy, Comes a Reminder

Maryanne Leblanc's picture

“Superstorm” Sandy passed through the northeast United States earlier this week. High winds and heavy rains caused considerable damage, particularly in New Jersey and New York. High winds damaged buildings and knocked down trees and branches. Falling trees and branches caused more damage, including falling on electrical and telephone wires, breaking them and causing widespread power outages. Further, the winds north of the storm’s center pushed already high tides into repeated surges, some as much as 4.5 m (over 13 feet) above normal high tide. Coastal areas, including parts of Manhattan, were submerged; road and subway tunnels filled with water. Heavy rains caused additional flooding along rivers and coastlines.

Transparency Delayed, Transparency Denied?

Antonio Lambino's picture

Is transparency delayed, transparency denied? How about when disasters, such typhoons or earthquakes, strike? Should transparency and citizen access to information as regards the disbursement of calamity funds be considered a priority? Or should transparency temporarily take a back seat during disasters with all efforts going into emergency response?