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landslides

A disaster that could have been avoided: Enhancing resilience with land and geospatial data

Alvaro Federico Barra's picture
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
(Photos: Robert Reid and Ivan Bruce / World Bank)

On August 14, 2017, after three days of intense rain, a massive side slope of the Sugar Loaf – the highest mountain in the north of Sierra Leone’s Western Area Peninsula – collapsed and slipped into the Babadorie River Valley.

The mudslide affected about 6,000 people. Up to 1,141 of them were declared dead or missing. The deadly disaster also caused major destruction of infrastructure near the capital city of Freetown.

What caused the slope to collapse? A complex set of factors, such as record-breaking rainfall and nature of the slope, may have contributed to the incident. However, many expert assessments suggest it was mainly "a man-made disaster" due to the rapid urbanization and expansion of Freetown – coupled with poor urban planning.

Like most West African cities, Freetown is plagued with unregulated building structures, residential housing in disaster-prone hilltop areas, and unplanned settlements that intensify deforestation and increase the risk of mudslides. To make things worse, many of the properties affected by the August 2017 mudslide were encroaching on the Western Area National Park, a forest reserve that still holds one of the last reserves of unspoiled forest in Sierra Leone.

Celebrating World Environment Day and building resilience in Freetown, Sierra Leone

Robert Reid's picture
Samking Koihinah Braima, deputy minister of Agriculture and Forestry, plants a tree on behalf of President Julius Maada Bio. Photo: Asad Naveed/World Bank

To celebrate World Environment Day, hundreds of Freetonians came together to plant a tree in honor of the more than 1,000 people killed and missing after devastating landslides and floods tore through Freetown less than a year ago. The landslide and flood waters ripped through the capital city with tremendous energy, destroying everything in its path. It was reported that a huge wave of boulders, building debris and mud cascaded down the river channel immediately after the landslide. The disaster affected more than 6,000 people and caused significant destruction and damage to critical infrastructure.

Preparing transport for an uncertain climate future: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have a computer

Julie Rozenberg's picture
Photo: Alex Wynter/Flickr
In 2015, severe floods washed away a series of bridges in Mozambique’s Nampula province, leaving several small villages completely isolated. Breslau, a local engineer and one of our counterparts, knew that rebuilding those bridges would take months. Breslau took his motorbike and drove the length of the river to look for other roads, trails, or paths to help the villagers avoid months of isolation. He eventually found an old earth path that was quickly cleaned up and restored… After a few days, the villagers had an alternative to the destroyed bridge, reconnecting them to the rest of the network and the country.

What happened in the Nampula province perfectly illustrates how a single weather event can quickly paralyze transport connections, bringing communities and economies to a screeching halt. There are many more examples of this phenomenon, which affects both developing and developed countries. On March 30th, a section of the I-85 interstate collapsed in Atlanta, causing schools to close and forcing many people to work from home. In Peru, food prices increase in Lima when the carretera central is disrupted by landslides because agricultural products can’t be brought to market.

How can we help countries improve the resilience of their transport networks in a context of scarce resources and rising climate uncertainty?

Managing Disaster Risk in South Asia

Marc Forni's picture

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.