Countries are facing increasingly frequent negative impacts from adverse natural events. Central America, a region prone and vulnerable to disasters, is a clear example. Just from 1992 to 2011, Central America was hit by nearly 70 hurricanes with an average of 8 events per year, hindering sustainable economic growth.
Between 2005 and 2014, due to natural disasters, the region had a nominal cumulative loss of around US$5.8 billion, and witnessed more than 3,410 deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. More recently, in October 2011, Tropical Depression 12-E hit the coasts of El Salvador and Guatemala with damages amounting to nearly US$1 billion.
In two recent studies, we evaluated the causal impacts of hurricane windstorms on poverty and income as well as economic activity measured using night lights at the regional and country level. In both cases, we applied a fully probabilistic windstorm model developed in-house, and calibrated and adjusted it for Central America. The first study (on poverty) used yearly information at the household level (for income and poverty measures) as well as the national level (GDP per capita). Due to the limited comparable household data between the countries, we decided to follow up with the second study (on economic activity) using granular data at the highest spatial resolution available (i.e., 1 km2) to understand more deeply the (monthly) impact over time.
In 2006, I was working in Aceh, Indonesia (with the Red Cross), a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Amongst other post-disaster recovery activities, we were working with 20 coastal communities, helping them with community-managed small grants and encouraging them to invest in disaster resilience within their communities.
To my delight, all 20 communities, independently, chose to invest in the restoration of their mangroves that had been completely or partially destroyed by the tsunami. To them, losing their mangroves was like losing their ancestors: Mangroves defended them, provided them with food and a livelihood, and made their coastline beautiful. The mangroves were their pride, and reclaiming the mangroves was of the highest priority for them as a community.
Development professionals often complain about the absence of good-quality data in disaster-prone areas, which limits their ability to inform projects through quantitative models and detailed analysis.
Technological progress, however, is quickly creating new ways for governments and development agencies to overcome data scarcity. In Belize, the World Bank has partnered with the government to develop an innovative approach and inform climate-resilient road investments through the combination of creativity, on-the-ground experience, and strategic data collection.
Underdeveloped infrastructure, particularly in the transport sector, is a key constraint to disaster risk mitigation and economic growth in Belize. The road network is particularly vulnerable due to the lack of redundancy and exposure to natural hazards (mostly flooding). In the absence of alternative routes, any weather-related road closure can cut access and severely disrupt economic and social movement.
In 2012, the government made climate resilience one of their key policy priorities, and enlisted the World Bank’s help in developing a program to reduce climate vulnerability, with a specific focus on the road network. The institution answered the call and assembled a team of experts that brought a wide range of expertise, along with experience from other climate resilience interventions throughout the Caribbean. The program was supported by Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) European Union funds, managed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).
Our strategy to address data scarcity in Belize involves three successive, closely related steps.
The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths.
Afghanistan is vulnerable to a number of natural hazards, including earthquakes, flooding, drought, landslides and avalanches, as well as hazards arising from human interaction. Among low income countries, Afghanistan is second only to Haiti in terms of the number of fatalities caused by natural disasters between 1980 and 2015. In the last few years, however, the Afghan Government has increasingly understood how the consequences of extreme weather events and disasters add to existing security risks. Severe and prolonged droughts, for instance, have increased food insecurity, causing on average $280 million in economic damage to agriculture each year. Natural disasters and climate-related shocks affect 59 percent of the population, concentrated in economically poorer regions, as opposed to security-related shocks (15 percent).
The availability of disaster risk information is particularly important for a fragile state like Afghanistan where 4 out of 5 people rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. To strengthen resilience, investments in Afghanistan need to incorporate information on natural hazards in their planning, design and implementation. To help support government efforts, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), in close cooperation with the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), recently produced a comprehensive multi-hazard assessment level and risk profile, documenting information on current and future risk from fluvial and flash floods, droughts, landslides, snow avalanches and seismic hazards. The main findings, methodology and expected outcomes were recently discussed and presented to the Disaster Risk Management community of practice within the World Bank Group. A number of takeaways from the discussion are presented below:
What is Afghanistan’s risk profile and vulnerability?
Flooding is the most frequent natural hazard historically, causing average annual damage estimated at $54 million; large flood episodes can cause over $500 million in damage
Historically, earthquakes have caused the most fatalities, killing more than 10,000 people since 1980
3 million people are at risk from very high or high landslide hazard
Droughts have affected 6.5 million people since 2000; an extreme drought could cause an estimated $3 billion in agricultural losses, and lead to severe food shortages across the country;
An estimated 10,000 km of roads (15 percent of all roads) are exposed to avalanches, including key transport routes like the Salang Pass
With a population of 160 million, Bangladesh is situated at the epicenter of some of the deadliest cyclones the world has ever experienced. Catastrophic events are the norm rather than the exception. A severe tropical cyclone can strike every 3 years and 25% of the land floods annually.
The network of the mighty Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna rivers makes its meandering journey through the delta into the Bay of Bengal forming the coast of Bangladesh.
The jagged coastline of Bangladesh spans hundreds of miles and is subject to multiple challenges: 62% of the coastal land has an elevation of up to 3 meters and 83% is up to 5 meters above sea level. These low-lying areas are highly vulnerable to natural hazards.
Earlier this year, I got a chance to see first-hand the challenges that this demanding landscape had brought onto the communities of a remote coastal village. What struck me most when speaking to members of this coastal community was their courage and resilience. Aware that a calamity can hit anytime, they struggle to protect their livelihoods affected by saltwater intrusion, and their own lives which are increasingly at risk due to rising sea levels, and exposure to more frequent and devastating storms and cyclones.
By 2050, the coastal population is projected to grow to 61 million people, whose livelihoods will increasingly be at risk due to the impact of climate change.
Triggered by climate change, seawater inundation could become a major problem for traditional agriculture. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (2014), climate-related declines in food productivity will impact livelihoods and exports and increase poverty. In Bangladesh, it is estimated that these factors would cause a net increase in poverty of 15% by 2030.
To mitigate against such risks, the government has been investing in strengthening the resilience of the coastal zone. Over the years, Bangladesh has become an example of how protective coastal infrastructure, together with social mobilization and community-based early warning systems, is helping to build resilience.
In his “The People of the Abyss,” novelist Jack London describes in grim detail a devastating storm that rocked London in the early 20th century. Residents suffered terribly—some losing as much as £10,000, a ruinous sum in 1902—but none lost more than the city’s poorest.
Natural disasters are devastating to all affected; however, not everyone experiences them the same way. A dollar in losses does not mean to a rich person what it does a poor person, who may live at subsistence level or lack the means to rebound and rebuild after disaster strikes. Be it a drought or flood, the poor are always hit harder than their wealthier counterparts.
For many countries, damages and losses related to transport are a significant proportion of the economic impacts of disasters, often more than destruction to housing and agricult+ure in value terms. For example, a fiscal disaster risk assessment in Sri Lanka highlighted that over 1/3 of all damages and losses over the past 15 years were to the transport network. In addition, climate change increases the damages and losses.
In the Kyrgyz Republic, where 96% of all cargo travels by road, any disaster-related disruptions to the road network would have severe repercussions on the economy. The Minister of Transport and Roads, Mr. Zhamshitbek Kalilov, is charged with protecting these systems from all kinds of natural hazards, from avalanches to floods.
Held in Tokyo, the week-long exchange brought together World Bank clients and teams from 16 countries across all regions to share concepts and practices on resilient transport, including systems planning, engineering and design, asset management, and contingency programming. The exchange drew upon the experience of several countries and international experts who showcased innovative approaches and practical advice on how to address risk at every phase of the infrastructure life-cycle.
With crisis mapping’s increasing profile, other organizations have joined the fray. Just this month, Facebook announced that it was partnering with UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and other partners to “share real-time data to help respond after natural disasters,” and the United Nations has also contributed to the field with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) founding MicroMappers along with Meier, as well as creating UNOSAT, the UN Operational Satellite Applications Programme of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.
In a 2013 interview, UNOSAT Manager Dr. Einar Bjorgo described the work of his office.
“When a disaster strikes, the humanitarian community typically calls on UNOSAT to provide analysis of satellite imagery over the affected area… to have an updated global view of the situation on the ground. How many buildings have been destroyed after an earthquake and what access roads are available for providing emergency relief to the affected population? We get these answers by requiring the satellites to take new pictures and comparing them to pre-disaster imagery held in the archives to assess the situation objectively and efficiently.”
Four years later, UNOSAT’s work seems to have become even more important and has evolved from the early days when the group used mostly freely available imagery and only did maps.
The word “disruption” is frequently used to describe technology’s impact on every facet of human existence, including how people travel, learn, and even speak.
Now a growing cadre of digital humanitarians and technology enthusiasts are applying this disruption to the way humanitarian aid and disaster response are administered and monitored.
Humanitarian, or crisis, mapping refers to the real-time gathering and analysis of data during a crisis. Mapping projects allows people directly affected by humanitarian crises or physically located on the other side of the world to contribute information utilizing ICTs as diverse as mobile and web-based applications, aggregated data from social media, aerial and satellite imagery, and geospatial platforms such as geographic information systems (GIS).