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The global water community is gathering in Stockholm for World Water Week 2016. This year’s theme, “Water for Sustainable Growth,” comes at a critical time, as we are mobilizing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which water plays an essential part.
It drives economic growth, supports healthy ecosystems, and is fundamental for life. However, water can threaten health and prosperity as well as promote it. Water-related hazards, including floods, storms, and droughts, are already responsible for 9 out of 10 natural disasters, and climate change is expected to increase these risks.
Over the next two decades and beyond, ‘thirsty agriculture’ and ‘thirsty energy’ competing with the needs of ‘thirsty cities’ will place new and increasing demands on the water sector. Over 4 billion people currently live in areas where water consumption is greater than renewable resources for part of the year – a number that will continue to increase.
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Following the massive earthquake in Jogjakarta, Indonesia, in 2006, the city and surrounding areas were faced with having to build or rehabilitate about 300-thousand homes.
The government had the option of hiring 1,000 contractors to build 300 houses each. Or we could have 300 thousand people working to build one house each - their own homes.
With the Government of Indonesia in the lead, we took the latter approach in supporting Indonesia’s efforts to rebuild communities. This is the REKOMPAK way.
And while nature’s fury does not distinguish between urban and rural areas, a large majority of disaster losses are concentrated in cities, where they disproportionately affect the poor. This creates a great challenge for low and middle-income countries. , where most dwellings don’t comply with construction codes and home insurance is non-existent. Perhaps unsurprisingly, LAC’s informal districts also account for the majority of disaster-related deaths in the region.
Yet housing policies aimed at the poor tend to focus on supporting the construction of new units instead of retrofitting existing homes to make them safer—ignoring the fact that it is mostly buildings, not earthquakes, that kill people. As a result, the deficit in housing quality is still disturbingly high: millions of families remain exposed not just to disaster risk but also to high crime rates, eviction, poor housing conditions, as well as lack of access to basic services, healthcare, schools, and job opportunities.
To address these issues, countries will need to tackle the housing challenge from two different but complementary angles: they have to find ways of upgrading the existing housing stock, where the majority of the poor live, while making sure that new constructions comply with building regulations. After all, if floods or earthquakes do not distinguish between old or new homes, why should policy-makers?
- Sustainable Communities
- informal settlements
- Affordable Housing
- safe housing
- housing policy
- Disaster Risk Reduction
- Disaster Risk Mitigation
- disaster risk management
- Urban Development
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Public Sector and Governance
- Private Sector Development
- Law and Regulation
- Climate Change
- Latin America & Caribbean
Since natural disasters can strike anywhere and anytime, making far-sighted preparations is much more effective than scrambling to respond to a crisis. I recognized this after Hurricane Mitch ravaged Honduras and my grandmother had to be evacuated because the local river swelled to the second floor of her home.
As climate change intensifies extreme weather events across much of the planet, countries are seeking the World Bank Group’s support to improve both their physical and financial resilience to disasters.
We are increasingly working with governments to devise sound financial planning and risk management before a disaster strikes, not just to assemble financing to help countries recover in its wake.
Market-based instruments – such as insurance -- can act as shock absorbers in case of natural disaster, helping countries avoid the worst of a crisis’ financial impact.
The tragedy in Ecuador serves as a stark reminder that, in many cases, it is not earthquakes or other disasters that kill people, but failing building structures. Therefore, improving building safety will be key in protecting communities against rising disaster and climate risk.
With over a billion dwelling units expected to be built between now and 2050, focusing on new construction will be particularly important, and will help mitigate the impact of natural disasters for generations to come.
The good news is that we have the knowledge and technology to build safe, resilient structures. But, more often than not, this knowledge is not put into practice due to insufficient or poorly-enforced regulation, as well as a lack of incentives.
In this video, Ede Ijjasz and Thomas Moullier explain why building safety will play a critical role in enhancing disaster resilience, and discuss concrete recommendations on how to get there.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.
- Building Regulation for Resilience: Full report | Video | Program overview
- Retrofitting: A housing policy that saves lives
- Housing is at the center of the sustainable development agenda
Is it hot outside? Should I bring an umbrella?
Most of us don’t think much beyond these questions when we check the weather report on a typical day. But weather information plays a much more critical role than providing intel on whether to take an umbrella or use sunscreen. It can help manage the effects of climate change, prevent economic losses and save lives when extreme weather hits.
Every now and then an email stops me in my tracks, reminding me that Oxfam is stuffed full of bright, motivated, altruistic people. Here’s one I got a few weeks ago from Debbie Hillier, one of our Humanitarian Policy Advisers, in response to my request for thoughts on the state of the aid business. Her views are fleshed out in ‘A Preventable Crisis’, a new report published this week:
Here is a current example of how the aid system doesn’t work.
El Niño events and other droughts are forecast months in advance. There is of course some uncertainty in the forecasts, but nonetheless, there is often a high probability of a natural hazard. And with major droughts/El Niño/La Niña, these can affect many millions of people.
So there are situations of high probability and high impact – like the current El Niño. And these are situations where we know what the solutions are. There are far fewer complicating political factors than in conflict – we know what to do.
If this was the private sector, there would be a significant response at this point. However the aid system does not work like this.
I was recently at the Novafrica conference in Lisbon, where one of the keynote talks was given by Stefan Dercon. He based it around a newly released short book he has written with Daniel Clarke, called Dull Disasters (open access version). The title is meant to indicate both the aim to make dealing with disasters a dull event rather than media circus, as well as to discuss ways to ‘dull’ or reduce the impact of disasters.
Stefan started his talk by noting that disaster relief may well be the part of the whole international development and humanitarian system that is the least efficient and has had the least research on it. The book starts by noting the predictability of responses “every time a natural disaster hits any part of the world, the newspaper headlines ten days later can be written in advance: ‘why isn’t the response more coordinated?’. He gives the examples of the responses to the earthquakes in Nepal and Haiti, to Hurricane Katrina, and to Ebola as examples. But he then notes the crux of the problem “…The truth is everybody argues for coordination but nobody likes to be coordinated”.
During the initial stages of recovery efforts, supporting local-level recovery initiatives can serve as a springboard for large-scale reconstruction programs, which remains our biggest comparative advantage. Therefore, there is a need to expand these assessments to include other elements of recovery, which would inform preparation of multi-sectoral local level recovery interventions in the short-term, and major reconstruction programs in the medium- to long-term.