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With an Eye Toward the Future: Building Resilience in a Changing World

Habiba Gitay's picture

 Chatchai Somwat/Shutterstock

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.

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.

Africa and climate change: enhancing resilience, seizing opportunities

Raffaello Cervigni's picture

A new page on the World Bank’s web site emphasizes that addressing climate change is first and foremost a development priority for Africa. Even if emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases stopped today, there is wide agreement among scientists that global temperature will increase by 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century. If no action is taken to adapt to climate change, it threatens to dissipate the gains made by many African countries in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction over the past ten years.

  Photo © World Bank 
A major reason is that climate change is expected to increase the frequency and severityof droughts and floods. This will have serious consequences for vulnerable sectors such as agriculture, which now contributes some 30percent of GDP and employs 70 percent of the population in Africa. Climate change is also likely to spread malaria (already the biggest killer in the region) to areas currently less affected by it, particularly those at higher elevations. 

Africa’s Development in a Changing Climate

Marianne Fay's picture

 
    Photo © World Bank
In step with our Nairobi launch of the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change, we issued a news release focusing on Sub-Saharan Africa , as well as a policy booklet containing the main messages of the report for Africa and elements from the World Bank’s climate change strategy in this region.

The booklet draws attention to the urgent need to tackle the varied impacts of climate change on Africa’s agriculture, forests, food security, energy, water, infrastructure, health, and education. The continent’s natural fragility means that changes in rainfall patterns, increased droughts and floods, and sea level rise are already causing damage and affecting people’s lives.

Green solutions from Ghana

Kwasi Owusu Gyeabour's picture

The author, Kwasi Owusu Gyeabour, won third place in an international youth essay competition sponsored by the World Bank and other partners. He answered the question “How can you tackle climate change through youth-led solutions?” The awards were announced in Seoul in June, 2009.

There is never a time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now.” -James Baldwin (1924 - 1987) Nobody Knows My Name, "Faulkner and Desegregation

It is a privilege to be called on to share ideas on issues of our time, issues that can be solved through youthful action. In my essay, “Greening the Ghanaian Youth” I proposed several ideas that would help tackle climate change. Here is a sample of the ones I consider most practical.

Youth action at the community level is the most potent force in our fight against rapid climate change. So I proposed the establishment of a Green Sector Mutual Fund. This community-based fund will invest in firms that operate in the green/environmental sector. Now I consider this feasible because I have friends who have established mutual funds such as the University of Ghana Campus Mutual Fund which have turned out successful. The success of a fund mostly depends on factors such as advertising and the prestige and market reach of the fund managers. Most asset management firms these days would jump at the opportunity to manage something ethical just to create a sense of social responsibility and goodwill.

floods | Development in a Changing Climate

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