Sometimes the impacts of disasters seem difficult to predict, such as when the heavy snow that set off deadly avalanches in Afghanistan this winter also damaged transmission lines, disrupting the flow of electricity imported from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and resulting in power outages in Kabul. Other times the consequences seem almost inevitable, for example the likelihood of a devastating earthquake in the Ganges Basin of India, Nepal and Bangladesh within our lifetime.
There are, however, tools and models that allow us to determine the potential impacts of a disaster before they happen, and provide decision-makers with information they can use to reduce the potential impact.
disaster risk management
“What would it take to reduce disaster risk in your country by 50 percent by 2030?” This question was posed to a gathering of small island developing states leaders and representatives during the Understanding Risk forum in London in 2014.
At the time, it probably seemed like an overwhelming question. Around US$650 million in international financing is currently available annually to build resilience in small states. However, for many countries, reducing their disaster risk by 50 percent is an attainable goal.
Without concerted action, the world will one day see a megadisaster—a disaster resulting in over 1 million casualties.
The forces of population growth and rapid urbanization are dramatically increasing exposure to disaster risk. Over 600 million people, for example, live in the Ganges Basin of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Due to the meeting of the tectonic plates with the Indian subcontinent shifting under the Eurasian continent, this area is at a large risk of seismic activity. And indeed, the Ganges Basin has seen earthquakes over magnitude 7.0 in the past 500 years, as illustrated by the graphic above.
As practitioners, we can help reduce disaster risk and build resilience to potential catastrophes through smart development practices. These practices, however, require targeted research that can inform which levers to move, and how to move them. Sadly, this kind of research is difficult to come by in the disaster risk management community, and harder still to communicate to those that need it most.
The Paris negotiations where the world will be writing a new international climate agreement are just a year away, and here in Lima, delegates from around the world are discussing their national commitments and contributions that will largely determine the level of ambition in that 2015 deal.
As we trace the path to a resilient and decarbonized economy, we must keep in mind that the Paris agreement will set a framework for the period post-2020. What happens until then?
The science tells us that, even with very ambitious mitigation action, we have already locked-in warming close to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Climate change impacts such as heat-waves, droughts, storms, and other weather extremes may be unavoidable.
What Happened Then?
A chemical gas spilled from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide. More than 40 tons of gas created a dense cloud over more than half a million people and killed thousands. None of the six safety systems at the plant worked to prevent the disaster. The company’s own documents prove the plant was designed with “untested” technology, and that it cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.
The State of Bhopal Today
Today, clean-up of the site is still pending, those who survived the disaster don’t have alternate livelihood opportunities and victims are still suffering.
The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – Triggering engagement in Disaster Risk Management (DRM)
In 2004 December, Sri Lanka faced the worst disaster in its history - the Indian Ocean Tsunami. More than 35,000 people lost their lives and around 5,000 people went missing. At the time of the Tsunami, Sri Lanka did not have a proper legal and institutional mechanism to manage disaster risk. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the Government made very serious efforts to establish a mechanism to avoid dramatic loss of life in future disaster events.
Subsequently, the Disaster Management Act was passed and the National Council for Disaster Management, chaired by the President, was established. A Ministry of Disaster Management (MoDM) was created and charged with the disaster risk management (DRM) portfolio and the Disaster Management Centre (DMC) was established July 2005 to implement DRM programs across the country.
With these mechanisms in place, the Government began strengthening disaster preparedness, especially for tsunamis. Three pieces were put in place including: i) development of a tsunami early warning system; ii) implementation of awareness raising programs, from the grassroots to national levels; and, iii) regular evacuation drills were conducted in all coastal villages. The system has proven successful as the DMC issued Tsunami evacuation warnings in September 2007 and April 2014, which resulted in the safe evacuation of coastal communities.
The World Bank Group is searching internally and globally for 18 experienced and driven professionals to help achieve two ambitious goals: reducing the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to 3% by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity by fostering the income growth of the bottom 40%. These leaders will be crucial to our plan to improve the way we work, so we can deploy the best skills and expertise to our clients everywhere, to help tackle the most difficult development challenges around the world.
Last month, the Bank Group’s member countries endorsed our new strategy which for the first time leverages the combined strength of the WBG institutions and their unique ability to partner with the public and private sectors to deliver development solutions backed by finance, world class knowledge and convening services.
Instrumental to the success of our strategy is the establishment of Global Practices and Cross-Cutting Solution Areas, which will bring all technical staff together, making it possible for us to expand our knowledge and better connect global and local expertise for transformational impact. Our ultimate goal is to deploy the best skills and expertise to our clients at the right time, and become the leading partner for complex development solutions.
We are accepting applications for the Global Practice senior directors who will lead these pools of specialists in the following areas: Agriculture; Education; Energy and Extractives; Environment and Natural Resources; Finance and Markets; Governance; Health, Nutrition, and Population; Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management; Poverty; Social Protection and Labor; Trade and Competitiveness; Transport and Information Technology; Urban, Rural, and Social Development; and Water.
- Public private partnership
- fiscal management
- Rural Development
- disaster risk management
- health nutrition and population
- Natural Resources Management
- global practices
- Urban Development
- Social Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Labor and Social Protection
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Financial Sector
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Macroeconomists for the Poor
“The forest is an integral part of my life and only source of income. We exploited it until we saw people killed in landslides in the neighboring areas. Gradually we became aware of the consequences of unplanned felling of trees. Now we protect our forest alongside the Forest Department. I own two hectares of forest land and they pay for its maintenance. I have earned a good amount after the first felling,” says a proud Sabbir, participant from a social forestry initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, Ukhiarghat, Cox’s Bazar.
The Government of Bangladesh initiated the Social Forestry programs with a view to meet the forest product requirements of the local population, reverse the process of ecological and climatic degradation through proper soil and water conservation, and also to improve the socioeconomic condition of the rural people.
Forests are the primary buffer against cyclones, storms and surges for over 16 million people living in the vulnerable coastal zone of Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, forests in Bangladesh have declined by 2.1% annually, accumulating to almost half of all forest cover, due to deforestation, illegal logging and harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture, conversion into non-forestland for settlement, farming, recreation and industries. With the likely increased incidence and intensity of extreme cyclonic events, efforts must focus on reversing the decline in forests in order to adequately safeguard people against threats induced by climate change.
When Cyclone Phailin struck the Indian states of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh last week, the predictions were dire. In 1999, a cyclone of comparable strength took 10,000 lives.
While Phailin affected up to 8 million people, leaving approximately 600,00 homeless, death tolls are currently estimated to be in the low double digits. What made all the difference between 1999 and today? A much improved early warning system, effective evacuations, and the construction of shelters probably played a crucial role. Credible forecasts and early warnings were available for several days before landfall, and close to one million people were evacuated.
Everyone who still thinks disasters are ‘natural’ should stop and consider this for a minute. This difference in impact is a real world example of an analogy discussed at the 5th Resilience Dialogue on Oct. 11, 2013. Here’s my interpretation:
Remember that old magic trick where a tablecloth is pulled off a fully set table but (almost) nothing falls over?
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.