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disaster risk management

Are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?

Ko Takeuchi's picture
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The “miracle pine,” a 250-year-old tree that survived the 2011 tsunami in Japan, has been preserved as a memorial to the 19,000 victims of the disaster. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In disaster risk management, we often pay close attention to the latest technological boosts to better understand risks and help communities prepare for the next disaster. While such efforts are commendable, I noticed that insightful messages from our ancestors can also help us better anticipate tomorrow’s disaster risks.

Such messages teach us how to keep hazards away from people (reducing existing risks) as well as how to keep people away from hazards (avoid creating new risks). On my latest trip to Japan, we hosted government officials from Armenia, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan as part of an experts’ visit focusing on disaster risk management, acting on Japan’s rich culture of passing on such decisive messages to future generations.

Retrofitting: A housing policy that saves lives

Luis Triveno's picture
Building earthquake-resistant housing in Peru. Photo: USAID/OFDA, Auriana Koutnik/Flickr
When a hurricane, earthquake or other natural disaster strikes a poor country, families too often suffer a double tragedy: the loss of loved ones and their most valuable (and sometimes only) asset, their home. In the aftermath of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which killed more than 260,000 people, 70% of asset losses were related to housing. Ecuador faces billions of dollars in reconstruction costs from last April’s 7.8 earthquake, which killed 900 and injured almost 28,000. If Peru were hit by an 8.0-degree earthquake, an estimated 80% of potential economic losses would involve housing.
 
And while nature’s fury does not distinguish between urban and rural areas, a large majority of disaster losses are concentrated in cities, where they disproportionately affect the poor. This creates a great challenge for low and middle-income countries.  In Latin America and the Caribbean, 200 million people—1/3 of the population—live in informal settlements, where most dwellings don’t comply with construction codes and home insurance is non-existent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, LAC’s informal districts also account for the majority of disaster-related deaths in the region.
 
Yet housing policies aimed at the poor tend to focus on supporting the construction of new units instead of retrofitting existing homes to make them safer—ignoring the fact that it is mostly buildings, not earthquakes, that kill people. As a result, the deficit in housing quality is still disturbingly high: millions of families remain exposed not just to disaster risk but also to high crime rates, eviction, poor housing conditions, as well as lack of access to basic services, healthcare, schools, and job opportunities.
 
To address these issues, countries will need to tackle the housing challenge from two different but complementary angles: they have to find ways of upgrading the existing housing stock, where the majority of the poor live, while making sure that new constructions comply with building regulations. After all, if floods or earthquakes do not distinguish between old or new homes, why should policy-makers? It is time for resilience to become part of the definition of “decent, affordable housing.”

Dealing with disasters – from Japan to the Philippines and back and around

John Roome's picture
This post by John Roome originally appeared on Huffington Post Japan on June 28, 2016.


Just consider a few simple statistics. On average, more than 1,000 lives are lost every year in the Philippines, with typhoons accounting for 74 percent of deaths, 62 percent of the total damages, and 70 percent of damages to agriculture.

Typhoon Haiyan struck in November 2013, known as Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded. The country though is also highly exposed to other hazards, including earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

From the “Laguna” to the Delta: Can lessons from Venice help us manage flood risk in Vietnam?

Linh X. Le's picture
A satellite view of Venice and the surrounding lagoon. Upon completion of the MOSE project in 2018, a series of flood gates between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea will protect the city from high tide and storm surges.
Upon completion of the MOSE project in 2018, a series of flood gates between Venice's Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea will protect the city from high tide and storm surges. Credit: NASA
Venice may seem like an unlikely location for an international development conference. But even though the Italian city is best known for its touristic appeal, it also turned out to be the perfect setting for the Understanding Risk Forum 2016, where representatives from 125 countries exchanged knowledge on disaster risk management and explored ways of adapting global lessons to their own local context.
 
At merely 1 meter above sea level, Venice has had its fair share of natural disasters, especially floods. In 1966, the record-high 194-cm flood had severe consequences on the Old Venice, causing an estimated $6 million worth of damage (1966 US dollars). Given the city’s touristic and historical significance to Italy and the world, protection from flood is a top priority.
 
That's why the Government of Italy has invested over €5.5 billion on the MOSE Project, which involves constructing 4 mobile barriers at the mouth of the water basin to the sea in order to better control high tide and prevent it from flooding the Old Venice. Each barrier consists of several energy-efficient flap gates that can be deployed quickly when high tide occurs, maintaining the ideal water level in the basin while safeguarding the natural ecosystem in the laguna area. Once the project is completed in 2018, it should fully protect the city, and allow future generations to admire the beauty of its glory days.

ThinkHazard! – A new, simple platform for understanding and acting on disaster risk

Alanna Simpson's picture
ThinkHazard! platform


Too many times after a natural hazard strikes, public outcries follow once the level of devastation becomes clear. People wonder – and often rightly so – if the disaster could have been prevented.  After the 2015 Nepal earthquake for example, years of investment in school buildings was wiped away in seconds because schools were not built to withstand earthquakes – often because people were not aware of the earthquake risk. Fortunately, it was a Saturday so the schools that collapsed did not also result in unimaginable human tragedy.  

Using technology to stay ahead of disaster risk

John Roome's picture
Hurricane Patricia. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory

We’re witnessing an unprecedented uptick in record-breaking storms. In October last year, Hurricane Patricia came ashore in Mexico with record breaking 200 miles per hour winds. A few months later on the other side of the world, Cyclone Winston broke records for Pacific basin wind speeds, destroying parts of mainland Fiji with 180 miles per hour winds. More recently, Cyclone Fantala became the most powerful storm in the Indian Ocean ever recorded.
 
Experts agree that its activities by people which are increasing the severity of storms like these. Climate change isn’t just projected to increase the intensity of hurricanes and cyclones, but a whole other range of other natural hazards, like droughts, floods, storms, and heat waves.

How can small island states become more resilient to natural disasters and climate risk?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Small Island States are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and natural disasters. In fact, 2/3 of the countries that have been most severely impacted by disasters are small island nations, which have lost between 1 and 9% of GDP annually due to weather extremes and other catastrophes. The severity and recurrence of disasters makes it hard for those countries to recover, and seriously undermines ongoing development efforts.
 
The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) are actively working with small island states to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and climate risk, including through their joint Small Island States Resilience Initiative. World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and GFDRR's Sofia Bettencourt tell us more.

In the face of disaster, resilient communities are just as important as resilient infrastructure

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
What does it take to prevent or mitigate the impact of natural disasters?
 
For many, disaster resilience is all about better infrastructure, efficient early warning systems, and stronger institutions. While those aspects are obviously crucial, we shouldn’t overlook the role of communities themselves in preparing for and responding to disasters. After all, the success of both preparedness and recovery efforts depends largely on local residents' ability to anticipate risk, on their relationship with local and national authorities, and on the way they organize themselves when disaster strikes. In the aftermath of a catastrophe, rebuilding not just the physical environment but also the livelihoods of people is also essential, including through effective social protection systems and safety nets.
 
In this video, Senior Social Development Specialist Margaret Arnold explains how the World Bank is working with client countries and local communities to bring the social dimension of disaster risk management to the forefront.

Can Singapore inspire Laos to build water-smart cities?

Henrike Brecht's picture
Photo: Songquan Deng/Flickr
Photo: Songquan Deng/Flickr
Singapore: the beautiful city state, famed for its lush gardens, splendid food, culturally diverse communities, and the cocktail Singapore Sling. I was there last week for the World Bank’s 2016 Urban Week. The event brought together leading city officials from all over the world and staff from international organizations. It was an excellent exchange on how to tackle urban planning in a sustainable and integrated way. One lesson that emerged from the gathering is that cities that are resilient to natural disasters are also more economically competitive. Singapore is itself a prime example of a city that has understood the importance of connecting disaster risk management, urban planning, and quality living.

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