Ellen Goldstein, The World Bank's Regional Director for Eastern Europe, talks about the Bank's response to devastating floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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
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:
In Unit #95 (Photo: Martje van der Heide)
“This is unit number 95”, Preeti told me. “It is the standard model.” Geeta Devi the owner shook her head. “Look up”, she said, “This is our house.” I looked up and saw what she meant: there was a beautiful lotus flower design in the ceiling. “My husband made it” Geeta said proudly. “This is our house”.
The tireless Preeti works with village communities to help them build back better (Photo: Martje van der Heide)
Preeti Bisht is the community worker for SUDHA who is mobilizing the victims of the Uttarakhand floods in this small village on the Mandakini River, well on the way to Kedarnath. She took me all the way to unit number 107 and in passing showed me the school. I soon discovered that none of the house units were standard. Some people added a room, others an extra window in the kitchen to show the amazing view up river. And the houses that were already finished were painted in every color imaginable as houses in Uttarakhand are meant to be.
Typhoon Haiyan, the Category 5 super storm that devastated parts of the Philippines and killed thousands late last year, continues to remind us, tragically, of how vulnerable we are to weather-related disasters.
As the images of destruction and desperation continue to circle the globe, we’re also reminded that those most at risk when natural disaster strikes are the world’s poor – people who have little money to help them recover and who lack food security, access to clean water, sanitation and health services.
Over the last year, as one major extreme weather event after another wreaked havoc and claimed lives in the developing world, terms such as "resilience" and "loss and damage" have become part and parcel of our efforts here at the World Bank Group – and for good reason.
Developing countries have been facing mounting losses from floods, storms and droughts. Looking ahead, it’s been estimated that up to 325 million extremely poor people could be living in the 49 most hazard-prone countries in 2030, the majority in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
These scenarios are not compatible with the World Bank Group’s goal to reduce extreme poverty to less than 3 percent by 2030, or with our goal to promote shared prosperity.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released late last month, provides the strongest evidence thus far of how humans influence the Earth’s climate.
Weather hazards, already a present reality, are likely to become more extreme as a consequence of a rapidly warming planet. Floods, droughts, storm surges and heat waves threaten the lives and livelihoods of everyone, but disproportionately effect the poor who are often most vulnerable and exposed to disaster risks.
Building resilience in this new world requires investments on many fronts, including in the often-neglected and underfunded national meteorological and hydrological agencies that give nations the capacity and ability to warn and respond effectively to weather-related hazards.
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.
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.
As a resident of Quezon City in Metro Manila, I grew up with typhoons and floods during the monsoon season that normally lasts from June to September. People in cities have learned to live with floods, and perhaps, not learned from the experience enough to change mindsets, lifestyles. Our drains continue to be clogged, motorists get stranded on the road, families still live in danger zones so much so that entire communities get evacuated, lives and livelihoods are lost, year in, year out.
Climate change is definitely upon us. You don’t need to have a scientific mind to realize this, as recent natural calamities have shown in the Philippines, which also swept through some parts of Southeast Asia causing hundreds of casualties and losses to the economy: Typhoons Ondoy (International name: Ketsana) and Pepeng (Parma) in 2009 that flooded Metro Manila; Sendong (Washi) in 2011 which was recognized as the world’s deadliest storm in 2011; and Pablo (Bopha) in 2012. Certainly, this is a little discomforting and makes us a little bit apprehensive about our future. To lessen our anxiety about this phenomenon, it helps to ask questions and get answers. It’s also good to know if something is being done to address the problem – and know that it is being done right.
The Aquino government has been very aggressive in its approach to address the problem of climate change. It staffed the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and made it functional. The CCC coordinates and provides oversight and policy advice on programs and projects on climate change. It is also tasked to craft the National Strategic Framework on Climate Change and the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP). The latter serves as the country’s roadmap to effectively deal with the problem. The CCC also takes a strong stand in international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.