After more than two hours stranded at a small town train station near Tokyo, Japan, with record snowfall and freezing temperatures outside our windows, the train driver addressed us for the third time – no new updates. “Our personnel are working to fix the problem,” the voice said. At that moment, an older man seated next to me leaned over and told me, “We have to do our part; the people working in the snow are trying their best to fix the system, so we can move. We should remain calm and wait - we cannot be part of the problem.” I was starting to understand why Japanese are so resilient.
This adventure began last February, following my participation in the launch of the new, $100 million joint program between Japan and the World Bank for disaster risk reduction. This program, implemented by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), will benefit a large number of especially vulnerable countries around the world. As part of this new initiative, the World Bank also launched the Disaster Risk Management Tokyo Hub.
The launch for the Tokyo Hub was held at a high level symposium at the Japan Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) on February 3, which attracted more than 400 people and had substantial media coverage. The Senior Vice-Minister for Finance/Senior Vice-Minister for Reconstruction Jiro Aichi (a native of Sendai) spoke of Japan's commitment to disaster risk management (DRM) and thanked the World Bank for its strong support, before kicking off an intense program of inter-agency meetings to better utilize Japanese expertise in DRM practices.
My experience with Japanese solidarity and resilience, however, was best highlighted the day I was returning home. On February 9, as I was trying to get to Narita airport, more than 27 centimeters of snow fell on Tokyo and other areas of Japan, the heaviest of 40 years. Many buildings in the city collapsed, leaving at least 11 dead and more than 1,200 injured across the country.
‘It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring.’ Truth be told, I apparently snore, and I suppose I’m not that young anymore. But hard to believe, I’m sure this nursery rhyme is not about me. And despite the recent Noah-like floods in Europe, Bangkok, Calgary, Dhaka, Jakarta, New York and Toronto, it’s not really about any one city, or any one country, or even any one continent. But, ‘went to bed and bumped his head. And won’t get up in the morning,’ aptly describes our current political paralysis.
Many children know this song. Soon they will learn how their grandfathers and fathers slept through the rain.
Here in troubled Toronto and gritty Calgary, there was the inevitable debate on whether or not the recent floods could be attributed to climate change. ‘If it’s this bad now, what’s the future hold?’ people wondered. ‘Sleepwalking into trouble,’ came to mind for many.
For the East Asia & Pacific Transport, Urban & Disaster Risk Management team of the World Bank, a recent study trip to New Orleans was an eye-opener about how even the richest society in the world can face challenges that are strikingly similar to those of our client countries. In a city that is famous for the excesses of the French Quarter, the opulence of the Garden District and (since that fateful August in 2005) the desolation of the Lower 9th Ward, we saw how the impacts of a disaster are made all the worse when prosperity is not shared.
Two years after Katrina, I made my first trip to New Orleans to study the reconstruction process. The Lower 9th still had mountains of debris from flattened houses on most blocks. Where houses still stood throughout the city, FEMA’s iconic Urban Search & Rescue ‘x-codes’ remained as eerie signposts on the road to recovery.
A recent learning trip to New Orleans by the East Asia and Pacific Transport, Urban and Disaster Risk Management team introduced the unique charms of this city to many of us for the first time. Anyone who has been to New Orleans will remember the city for its historic but lively French Quarter, its living jazz tradition, with bands of talented local musicians playing for tips in the narrow streets, its Mardi Gras floats, its Cajun food, the oldest continually operating streetcar system in the world, and the varied history of the city that has resulted in its distinct Creole culture. As Dave Roberts, a local tour guide, explains to tourists, this was where the classical music tradition of the French colonialists came into contact with the pulsating African rhythms of freed slaves escaping to Louisiana from Haiti. The fact that jazz music was consequently born in New Orleans “was not a coincidence,” he says. “Few things are.”
Everywhere we went in New Orleans, we heard painful stories of those who had lived through Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But what was striking was the pride that the residents of New Orleans have in their city and their determination to rebuild it. As my colleague Artessa Saldivar-Sali describes, city officials and the US Army Corps of Engineers have dedicated themselves to strengthening the city’s defenses in order to ensure that the next time the city is hit, it is better prepared. Well-educated New Orleanians and outsiders have come to work at the city redevelopment authority, the disaster preparedness agency, and community-based affordable housing organizations. These are people who could easily abandon New Orleans for well-paid private sector jobs in other US cities but who have chosen instead to use their talents in aid of the poor and vulnerable and towards the greater good of their city.
These are exciting days at the World Bank Group. We are getting ready to receive delegates from our 188 member countries, who will gather in Washington for the WBG-IMF Spring Meetings.
It is an especially important time for the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the disaster risk management team at the World Bank, as we prepare to host – together with the European Union, the Government of Japan, and USAID – the fourth round of the Resilience Dialogue. This round we are focusing on the role disaster and climate resilience can play in the post-2015 development framework.
Disaster and climate risks were not addressed as part of the original framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Recent experience has provided countless examples of the devastating impacts of disasters – impacts that go well beyond dollar signs or GDP statistics. It has become evident that disaster and climate risks are impediments to the achievement of poverty reduction and sustainable development goals, and should therefore be integrated in the development framework that will replace the MDGs.
As the East Coast USA deals with Hurricane Sandy, aka “Frankenstorm”, and Hawaii breathes a sigh of relief at a downgraded tsunami, we are again reminded of the immediate and long-term socio-economic destruction of natural disasters. Hurricane Sandy has resulted in school and public transportation closures, flight cancellations, area evacuations, and even modified Presidential campaign schedules. New York Mayor Bloomberg urged residents to cooperate, “if you don't evacuate, you are not only endangering your life, you are also endangering the lives of the first responders who are going in to rescue you. This is a serious and dangerous storm.”1
Ground zero for natural disasters lies not in the US, however, but in the Asia Pacific Region. Last week, UN ESCAP/UNISDR released the Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2012, ‘Reducing Vulnerability and Exposure to Disasters’. In the year 2011 alone, Asia Pacific represented:
- 80% (US$ 294/366.1 billion) of the annual global disaster losses
- Half of the most costly natural disaster events
New York City has been a global leader in proactively planning and preparing for climate change under Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s civic leaders. PlanNYC sets out clear goals and plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30% and to increase the resilience of our communities, natural systems, and infrastructure to climate risks. It already started the process of adapting to climate change, including elevating infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plant, and expanding “green infrastructure” like marshes along the coast to buffer and limit flooding impacts.
But the events triggered by the unprecedented hurricane Sandy haven shown that what has been done is still not sufficient. What can we learn from the disaster? There will be a lot of valuable lessons coming out in the months ahead, as emergency responses are still ongoing and reconstruction are yet to start. Here are three early lessons:
Looking at communities across our planet, there is a brutal lack of resilience in our modern lives. Cities have expanded without careful planning into flood- and storm-prone areas, destroying natural storm barriers and often leaving the poor to find shelter in the most vulnerable spots. Droughts, made more frequent by climate change, have taken a toll on crops, creating food shortages.
In the past 30 years, disasters have killed over 2.3 million people, about the population of Houston or all of Namibia.
- The World Region
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
- Urban Development
- Science and Technology Development
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Culture and Development
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Inclusive Green Growth
- green growth
- disaster risk management
- Climate Change
On Monday, Sept. 17, a chorus of voices from around the world spoke out in support of “Green Buildings for Great Communities,” the theme of this year’s World Green Building Week, hosted by World Green Building Council. Green building councils from 90 nations organized hundreds of events to educate the public about the health, environmental and economic benefits of sustainable design and construction.
CHF International (Cooperative Housing Foundation), which serves millions of people in low- and moderate-income communities around the world, hosted a panel in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) called “Cities and Climate Change Adaptation: What We Can Learn About Resilience from Those Living on the Edge.” The panel featured Judy Baker, lead economist in the Urban Practice at the World Bank Institute; Brian English, director of program innovation for CHF International; Aram Khachadurian, an international development consultant; Helen Santiago Fink, urban climate change advisor for USAID; and Janice Perlman, an independent scholar, teacher and consultant, who discussed resiliency in the built environment and its role in addressing the plight of the urban poor.
Anyone who’s ever been knocked down knows that getting back up can be hard. The 10th Anniversary of Toronto’s ‘Summerlicious’ festival last weekend is a great example of how a city picked itself up after a solid blow.
During Summerlicious (and its seasonal twin, ‘Winterlicious’), restaurants offer two weeks of enticing prix fixe lunches and dinners. The festival, which originally started with 35 high-end restaurants, had more than 180 restaurants participating this year. The restaurant special helped the city recover from the precipitous drop in tourism when Toronto was hit by SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in April 2003.