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Disasters

Effective Weather Forecasting Strengthens Climate Resilience

David P. Rogers's picture

 Curt Carnemark/World Bank

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.

Increasing Flood Risks Create Major Challenges for World's Coastal Cities

Stéphane Hallegatte's picture

 NOAA via Wikimedia
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.

New Climate Report Emphasizes Urgency

Jane Ebinger's picture

 Wutthichai/Shutterstock

Bangkok is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, home to more than eight million people. However, a new report released by the World Bank today paints a grim picture for the Thai capital. It notes that, without adaptation, a predicted 15cm sea-level rise by the 2030s coupled with extreme rainfall events could inundate 40% of the Thai capital and almost 70% of Bangkok by the 2080s. While I certainly hope it doesn't happen, words cannot describe the impact this would have on the lives and livelihoods of people residing in this city.  And Thailand isn’t the only country that could be affected by rising temperatures. 

The report - Turn Down the Heat:  Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience - was commissioned by the World Bank’s Global Expert Team on Climate Change Adaptation and prepared by a team of scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. It looks at the latest peer-reviewed science and with the aid of advanced computer simulations looks at the likely impacts of present day (0.8°C), 2°C, and 4°C warming across three regions – Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and South East Asia. It focuses on the lives and livelihoods of people in the developing world by analyzing the risks to agriculture and food security in sub-Saharan Africa; the rise in sea-level, bleaching of coral reefs and their impact on coastal communities in South East Asia; and the impact of fluctuating rainfall patterns on food production in South Asia. The poor and the vulnerable are the ones that will be most affected by the impacts of climate change.

Grassroots Leaders: Empowering Communities is Resilience Building

Margaret Arnold's picture

 Margaret Arnold/World Bank
Participants at the first Community Practitioners Academy meeting, which was held ahead of the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction in Generva. - Photos: Margaret Arnold/World Bank

Communities are organized and want to be recognized as partners with expertise and experience in building resilience rather than as clients and beneficiaries of projects. This was the common theme that emerged from the key messages delivered by grassroots leaders at the Fourth Global Platform for Disaster Reduction taking place in Geneva this week, organized by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). The Global Platform is a biennial forum for information exchange and partnership building across sectors to reduce disaster risk.

Ahead of the Global Platform, 45 community practitioners from 17 countries - Bangladesh, Chile, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Samoa, Uganda, Venezuela, and the United States - met for a day and a half to share their practices and experiences in responding to disasters and building long-term resilience to climate change, and to strategize their engagement in around the Global Platform. I had the privilege to participate in this first Community Practitioners Academy, which was convened by GROOTS International, Huairou Commission, UNISDR, the World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Risk and Reduction (GFDRR), Act Alliance, Action Aid, Japan NGO Center for International Cooperation (JANIC), Cordaid, and Oxfam, and was planned in partnership with the community practitioners from their respective networks.

Risk of intensified storm surges: High stakes for developing countries

Susmita Dasgupta's picture
Flood Victims Wait for Relief
Photo © Syed Zakir Hossain/Greenpeace

We are now faced with overwhelming scientific evidence that more intense storm surges and sea-level rise from climate change are serious global threats. Increased cyclonic activity and heightened storm surges are expected from the rise in sea surface temperature now observed at all latitudes and in all oceans. Even small changes in sea level profoundly affect storm surge height and the extent of flooding in coastal zones and adjoining low-lying areas. I think there is a dire need for greater disaster preparedness in countries vulnerable to such storm surges.

A dire situation in Bangladesh

Nate Engle's picture
Photo by Mohon Mondal
Photo: © Mohon Mondal, Local Environment Development and Agricultural Research Society, Bangladesh.

Estimates assessing how many people will be displaced or forced to migrate because of climate change impacts are wide-ranging. But anecdotes of where climate-related migration is already taking place are beginning to crowd newspapers, radio and television programs, and various internet sources. Other than the low-lying islands which could be completely consumed by rising ocean waters, perhaps nowhere else in the world are these stories more pronounced than in Bangladesh.

Blogging for pro-poor climate adaptation: II. Wanted: new ideas for combating vulnerability to Climate Change

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

[Originally posted at the Development Marketplace Blog]

In my first blog entry, I mentioned that adaptation to climate change spans a vast range of possible actions and that it can seem a rather abstract concept. Adaptation can range from sea walls to drought-resistant crops to social protection for climate shocks. This big range of possible actions makes it hard to nail down: what does any given country, region, or village really need to do to start adapting? Any two people talking about climate adaptation in poor countries probably carry different mental images of the kind of actions they think will be needed. 

To pretend that we have all the answers—as some of the numerous reports being written on the topic do—is foolish. We are in the pioneer days of gearing up for climate change and no-one knows what actions will ultimately prove most effective.

Blogging for pro-poor climate adaptation series: I. Nailing down pro-poor adaptation

Rasmus Heltberg's picture

[Originally posted at the Development Marketplace Blog]

Nailing down pro-poor adaptation
   Photo © Planinternationalty

We hear that climate changes – ongoing and those to come – are hitting the poor the hardest and the soonest. So what can we do about that?

Well, adapting to climate change is such an abstract and wide-reaching concept I find it sometimes hard to nail down. How do you actually adapt, especially if you are poor and struggling to put food on the table and send your children to school? I find myself wondering what are the ideas that can help poor people cope with harsh weather?

Cities on the rise?

Alexander Lotsch's picture

The developing world is rapidly urbanizing, as a previous World Development Report noted. Low and middle-income nations are home to three quarters of the world’s urban population. Urban areas are likely to absorb almost all of the world’s population increase over the next two decades. The most populous urban areas tend to concentrate in coastal zones--China and India alone have more than a quarter of the world’s urban population and the world’s largest population living in low-lying coastal zones. Even Africa, generally considered a rural continent, has two-fifths of its population in urban areas, and a large concentration of coastal cities.

How to hold back the ocean?

Sandy Chang's picture

How to hold back the ocean?

    Photo © William Lane/World Bank

Sea-level rise is not a phenomenon of increasing frequency, but rather increasing magnitude in a persistent and continuous way. The effect of climate change is most palpably felt in small, low-lying island states such as Panza Island, the southernmost island off Pemba in Tanzania. Farming and fishing are the main means of livelihood. Significant parts of the island, especially the lower elevation southeastern side, are inundated by seawater bimonthly, during the spring cycles and most prominently during the diurnal flood tides. The local residents report up to four feet of water in some areas, which have only become vulnerable in the past year. Previously agricultural land can no longer be farmed. The area near the local school has been flooding for the past 15 years. Salt water has intruded into all the wells on the island, so drinking water has to now be piped in from a neighboring island.

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