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Disasters

Lessons From Mapping Geeks: How Aerial Technology is Helping Pacific Island Countries Recover From Natural Disasters.

Michael Bonte-Grapentin's picture

For many Pacific Island countries, natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunamis, are an all-too common occurrence. Out of the top 15 most at-risk countries for natural disasters globally, four are Pacific Island countries, and Vanuatu is consistently at the top.

In 2015, Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, and knowing the extent of damage was vital for the government to identify and plan reconstruction needs. A team of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) experts were sent out to quickly establish credible estimates of the damages and losses. Many damage reports were already available from the field, but with varying quality, and the challenge was to consolidate and verify them, within a very tight timeframe. Cloud cover also prevented us from getting satellite images, so we mobilized two UAV teams to fly below the clouds and capture high-resolution footage showing the impacts on the ground in the worst affected islands in Tafea and Shefa province.

Challenges continued throughout, from needing to coordinate airspace with those flying relief goods into affected areas, to transferring massive datasets over low internet bandwidths. But with team-effort and ingenuity, solutions were found; the UAV teams were able to capture valuable damage footage within sampled areas during the day, which were analysed overnight by volunteers of the Humanitarian Open Street Map (HOT) and the Digital Humanitarian Network; new workflows were developed to collate the data and to feed the outputs into the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment.   
 

Interpreted damage information post-Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, 2014: red – destroyed houses, orange – partially damaged houses, blue – no obvious damage to house.

The Roadmap for Safer Schools—a conversation on making school infrastructure more resilient to natural disasters

Fernando Ramírez's picture
Global Program for Safer Schools

Imagine that you are an advisor to your country's Minister of Education. A recent earthquake damaged hundreds of schools in several cities. The minister has called for a meeting with you and asked: What are the main factors that contribute to the vulnerability of our school infrastructure? What can be done to prevent similar damages in the future?

So… What would you advise?

In search of answers, we spoke with the leaders of the World Bank’s Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS), who have recently launched an innovative tool, the Roadmap for Safer Schools. This roadmap is a guide to design and implement systematic actions to improve the safety and resilience of school infrastructure at risk from natural hazards. 

 

Resilient transport investments: a climate imperative for Small Island Developing Countries

Franz Drees-Gross's picture


Transport in its many forms – from tuk-tuks in Thailand to futuristic self-driving electric cars – is ubiquitous in the lives of everyone on the planet. For that reason, it is often taken for granted – unless we are caught in congestion, or more dramatically, if the water truck fails to arrive at a drought-stricken community in Africa.

It is easy to forget that transport is a crucial part of the global economy. Overall, countries invest between $1.4 to $2.1 trillion per year in transport infrastructure to meet the world’s demand for mobility and connectivity. Efficient transport systems move goods and services, connect people to economic opportunities, and enable access to essential services like healthcare and education. Transport is a fundamental enabler to achieving almost all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is crucial to meet the objectives under the Paris agreement of limiting global warming to less than 2°C by 2100, and make best efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

But all of this depends on well-functioning transport systems. With the effects of climate change, in many countries this assumption is becoming less of a given. The impact of extreme natural events on transport—itself a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions—often serve as an abrupt reminder of how central it is, both for urgent response needs such as evacuating people and getting emergency services where they are needed, but also for longer term economic recovery, often impaired by destroyed infrastructure and lost livelihoods. A country that loses its transport infrastructure cannot respond effectively to climate change impacts.

Making homes safer to build resilient cities

Kristina Wienhoefer's picture

Children are often told that home is where to run inside when thunders hit or when the rain comes, and that home is a safe place. However, for billions of people in the world, it is not.
 
By 2030, it is estimated that 3 billion people will be at risk of losing a loved one or their homes—usually their most important assets—to natural disasters. In fact, the population living on flood plains or cyclone-prone coastlines is growing twice as faster as the population in safe homes in safer areas.
 
Due to climate change, extreme weather and other natural hazard events hit these populations harder and more often. The 10 natural disasters causing the most property damages and losses in history have occurred since 2005. The damages and losses were highly concentrated in the housing sector. While the poor experience 11% of total of asset losses, they suffer 47% of all the well-being losses. Worse, natural disasters can lead to unnecessary losses of life, with earthquakes alone causing 44,585 deaths on average per year. This is an issue that policymakers and mayors need to address if they don’t want their achievements in poverty reduction to be erased by the next hurricane or earthquake.

World Bank Group

How to protect metro systems against natural hazards? Countries look to Japan for answers

Sofía Guerrero Gámez's picture
Photo: Evan Blaser/Flickr
The concentration of population in cities and their exposure to seismic hazards constitute one of the greatest disaster risks facing Peru and Ecuador. In 2007, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake along the southern coast of Peru claimed the lives of 520 people and destroyed countless buildings. The most recent earthquake in Ecuador, in 2016, left more than 200 dead and many others injured.
 
Of course, these risks are not exclusive to Latin America. Considered one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, Japan has developed unparalleled experience in seismic resilience. The transport sector has been an integral part of the way the country manages earthquake risk— which makes perfect sense when you consider the potential consequences of a seismic event on transport infrastructure, operations, and passenger safety.

Fostering livable and prosperous cities: 4 steps that Peru should take

Zoe Elena Trohanis's picture
Vista del Metropolitano de noche. Lima. Perú.

When you think of Peru, the first city that usually comes to mind is Lima. Why? Well, because Lima is the largest city in the country, with close to 50% of the nation’s urban population living in the metropolitan area; the city also produces 45% of Peru’s GDP. While this level of concentration of population and economic activity may not be a good or bad thing, it points to some imbalances in the urban system in Peru. 

Spotting fires from space helps India’s foresters

E. Vikram's picture
 Vikas Gusain (April 2017)
Almost all fires in India are set by people intentionally or unintentionally. Ground fire in Chir Pine forests in Gumkhal, Pauri Garwal District, Uttarakhand, India. Credit: Vikas Gusain (April 2017)

The three-day international workshop on forest fires organized by the World Bank and the Forest Ministry of India is a watershed event in the management of forest fires in the country (1-3rd November 2017). On the first day, discussions were held on the latest technology being used to alert foresters to fires.

Almost all fires in India are set by people intentionally or unintentionally. For instance, forest-dependent communities in central India burn the forest floor to encourage the growth of tender tendu leaves, and to collect mahua flowers which standout easily on the charred forest floor.

In the northeast and some parts of central India, forests are rotationally burnt to ashes to enrich the soil for agriculture. After a few seasons of cropping, the depleted area is left to nature and the trees grow back once again. In the western Himalayas, pine needles are cleared every year to encourage the growth of grass for cattle-fodder. When pine needles full of resin pile up year after year, it takes just one spark from a careless smoker to burn down an entire forest of enormous value.

In remote areas, forest fires may not be detected for hours or even days, leading to an irreversible loss of forest wealth. Like any other hazard, the earlier one gets to know about the outbreak, the better it is for both the authorities and the people. Since traditional ways of gathering information from people perched on watch towers are not very effective, satellite sensors that can detect heat and smoke from space have now come to the rescue of foresters across the country.   

Today, the Forest Survey of India, in partnership with the National Remote Sensing Centre, uses these satellite detections to alert foresters across the country about the exact location of forest fires. All steps in the detection and dissemination process have been fully automated – including the processing of satellite data, filtering out fires that burn outside forests, composing personalized SMSs to relevant people, as well as sending them across. This system has helped fire alerts to reach people within 45 minutes to 1 hour of detection, enabling foresters to reach the spot quickly and contain the damage.

Hoping for a cloudy future for Caribbean statistics

Michael M. Lokshin's picture
Photo Credit: Lou Gold

Hurricanes Irma and Maria recently devastated the Caribbean region. Infrastructure in Dominica was severely damaged and the country suffered a total loss of its annual agricultural production. The entire population of Barbuda had to be evacuated to Antigua and other islands. Estimates by the World Bank indicate that Irma caused damages equivalent to 14 percent of GDP for Antigua and Barbuda, and up to 200 percent of GDP for Dominica. The increasing frequency of hurricanes poses a threat to the economic development and wellbeing of 40 million people living in the region.

The World Bank and other development institutions acted quickly by offering support to assess damages and losses, respond to the disaster, and assist with recovery by delivering financial packages and supporting emergency operations. However, in the longer term, the focus is on building the resilience of these small island states to natural disasters.

Data: critical for responding to disasters, but also vulnerable to them

Systems of national statistics can provide critical information about the extent of a disaster, help guide recovery operations, and assess the preparedness of countries to future shocks.  At the same time, the reliance of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) on local IT infrastructure makes them highly vulnerable to natural disasters. Computers, servers, and networks cannot operate without power; flooding and high humidity destroys hardware and storage media; looting and breaking into abandoned buildings puts sensitive information at the risk of falling into the wrong hands. Fortifying NSO buildings to withstand Category 5 hurricanes and enabling the offices to continue functioning afterwards is prohibitively expensive. Even if such structures were built, staffing would remain an issue, particularly if the entire population of the country was evacuated (as in case of Barbuda).

Cloud computing provides a very effective way to resolve that problem at a small fraction of the cost.

Why sustainable mobility matters

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Photo: Mariana Gil/WRI
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.

Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty. Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.

At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.

Sustainable mobility: Who's who and who does what?

Shokraneh Minovi's picture


Some might call it an existential question. Some may be surprised that the answer is not clear. When it comes to sustainable mobility initiatives and stakeholders, who is who, and who does what? Addressing these questions is a key pre-requisite to the transformation of the transport sector and the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The SDGs, the Global Decade of Action for Road Safety, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the Vienna Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries, over 100 different organizations and initiatives… It’s enough to make your head spin! As the world increasingly recognizes the importance of mobility to the overall sustainable development agenda, the number of stakeholders in this arena has been growing steadily. Although many established groups have been warning us for years about the role of transport in the fight against climate change—the sector accounts for some 23% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions—many newer players are now adding their voice to the global conversation.

From public transport agencies to car companies and ride-sharing platforms, clean fuel advocates, maritime transport groups, and electric vehicle proponents, a dizzying array of sector-specific initiatives have emerged over the last few years. Newer city-specific coalitions, such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Compact of Mayors, have played a critical role in relaying these concerns at the local level. However, global initiatives have been the ones that have seen the most impressive growth. Also in the mix are globally minded, from UN entities to smaller NGOS, as well as region-specific organizations such as regional development banks.

What’s the solution to untangling this web of stakeholders? Over the past six months, the World Bank, with support from the World Economic Forum, has mapped out major transport initiatives and organizations as comprehensively and systematically as possible.

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