Countries can respond to natural disasters better and assist victims faster if social protection systems are in place
Social protection systems have a role in addressing the human side of disaster and climate risks.
Global collaboration on mitigating disaster and climate risk through social protection systems facilitates solutions
Social protection specialists, disaster risk managers, risk finance practitioners and climate change experts at the World Bank Group sat down together recently to discuss the role of social protection systems in addressing the human side of disaster and climate risks.
Together with government counterparts and donor partners, they extracted lessons and came out with a compelling message: countries can respond to natural disasters better and assist victims faster if robust social protection systems are in place.
Communities living along the coast in Cebu province are at highly at risk to the impacts of climate change.
Having grown up in Cagayan, a province in the northeastern most part of the Philippines, our lives have always been defined by the wet and dry season as well as typhoons. My childhood memories are dotted with events when our village would be flooded or hit by typhoons. There were times when we had to evacuate and once permanently relocate following a catastrophic flooding of the province due to the swelling of the Cagayan River. My grandfather, then a tobacco farmer, would despair as his crops were frequently wiped out due to either flooding or drought. I recall that he once said that perhaps the seasons were also going senile (the popular saying in Filipino is “ulyaning panahon”) as they cannot seem to remember when they are supposed to occur.
A picture can tell a thousand words but the stunning photos we usually associate with the Pacific Islands often overlook the reality for many who live there. Faced with natural hazards such as cyclones, droughts and earthquakes alongside geographical remoteness and isolation, Pacific Island countries, which make up over a third of small island developing states (SIDS), are some of the most vulnerable nations in the world.
Already this year the Pacific region has been hit by two major disasters; Tropical Cyclone Ian in Tonga in January, followed by flash flooding in Solomon Islands in April. Both disasters had devastating impacts on the economy and livelihoods of local communities. Situated within the cyclone belt and Pacific Ring of Fire, earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones are frequent. Around 41 tropical cyclones occur each year across the region as well as numerous earthquakes and floods.
Our response to climate change at the global level clearly needs improving. While some governments are managing to set and enforce limits on the emission of greenhouse gases, an international agreement that is both enforceable and meaningful remains elusive. Measures undertaken by private individuals and organizations, though plentiful, largely fail to connect to the political process and continue to fall short in aggregate. Is there a way to combine these public and private efforts? We think there is, as we’ve explored in a recent NZZ article and ETH blog post: a new type of liability insurance.
Looking to the insurance industry for addressing climate change is not new (see, for example, Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller’s column; the Geneva Association’s statement; and the climate change and insurance links discussed at the World Bank’s recent Understanding Risk conference). What has been lacking, however, are ideas for employing insurance instruments at scale, across national boundaries, and in a way that maximizes existing capacities and market mechanisms.
Back in March 2014, I had the opportunity to be part of a World Bank team supporting the Tongan government to develop a reconstruction policy after Tropical Cyclone Ian hit earlier this year. To implement the policy, the Ministry of Infrastructure led a series of surveys to inform housing reconstruction. This post, which does not intend to be scientific or exhaustive, is to share some of the key lessons I learned from this experience.
Damage assessments are routine in the aftermath of disasters, but they differ depending on their objectives (Hallegatte, 2012 - pdf). A rapid survey in the wake of a disaster event could help to estimate grossly the direct human and economic losses and damages. This type of survey is best to capture the amplitude and the severity of the disaster. However, such survey could present some flaws, often because the survey will be conducted in a very short time frame with minimal design. On the other hand, a survey conducted a few months after the event is best to understand better the context of the disaster. It also allows a better design and better preparation. But, equally, such survey could include biases. For instance, the time lag between the event and the survey itself could create some level of challenges. Most likely, people would have started to fix their houses or have moved away from the affected area, and that will add a layer of complexity to the survey.
In the morning of January 11, 2014, after an early warning from the Department of Meteorology and the National Disaster Management Office on the upcoming category 5 tropical cyclone Ian, power and radio transmission went off on the Island of Ha’apai, one of the most populated among the 150 islands of the Tongan archipelago in the South Pacific.
The Pacific Islands are inherently prone to hazards due to their geographic location and small size. Each year Pacific Island countries experience damage and loss caused by natural disasters estimated at an average $284 million, or 1.7% of regional GDP (World Bank 2013). In the coming decades, climate change is expected to make things worse through sea level rise and more intense cyclones.
In 2011, Thailand suffered the worst floods in half a century. The flood crisis impacted more than 13 million people. About 97,000 houses were damaged and entire villages and cities were under water for months.
House in Ayutthaya affected by the 2011 floods
Three years later, Thailand has been able to deal with the worst of the impacts but some of the poorest households are still struggling to recover. We visited 10 affected communities in Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan as part of the supervision of the Community-based Livelihood Support for Urban Poor Project (SUP). We could still see the water marks on their walls, damaged ceilings, and wobbly structures. The unrepaired houses stuck out but just as striking was the strong sense of community in the area. We were reminded that villagers came together to overcome the worst natural disaster most of them ever witnessed in their lives.
The flooding led to better disaster risk management in the neighborhoods that are most at risk. Local governments have taken the lead. But the disaster has also, just as importantly, mobilized ordinary citizens in some of the most deprived communities. Here are some of their stories:
In the aftermath of a disaster, lack of information about the affected areas can hamper relief and recovery efforts. Open-source mapping tools provide a much-needed low-cost high-tech opportunity to bridge this gap and provide localized information that can be freely used and further developed.
A week ago, devastating typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. As the images of the horrifying destruction emerge, there is a clear need in accessing localized high-resolution information that can guide communities’ recovery and reconstruction. Responding to this challenge, over 766 volunteers have been activated by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to create baseline geographic data which can be freely used by the Philippine government, donors and partner organizations to support all phases of disaster recovery.