This blog is part of a series highlighting the work of the Afghanistan Disaster Risk Management and Resilience Program
During the almost 4 years I spent in the World Bank office in Kabul, I experienced frequent earthquake tremors and saw the results of the significant reduction in winter snow, which severely impacts the water available for agriculture during spring and summer.
While limited in scope, my first-hand experience with natural disasters adds to the long list of recurring hazards afflicting Afghanistan. This list is unfortunately long and its impact destructive.
Flooding, historically the most frequent natural hazard, has caused an average $54 million in annual damages. Earthquakes have produced the most fatalities with 12,000 people killed since 1980, and droughts have affected at least 6.5 million people since 2000.
Climate change will only increase these risks and hazards may become more frequent and natural resources more scarce. Compounded with high levels of poverty and inadequate infrastructure, the Afghan population will likely become more vulnerable to disasters.
Risk information is critical to inform development planning, public policy and investments and over time strengthen the resilience of new and existing infrastructure to help save lives and livelihoods in Afghanistan.
When the World Bank’s South Asia Disaster Risk and Climate Change team started working in Afghanistan less than two years ago, very little information was available on hazards and risks.
So the team set out to produce this basic risk information so critical to many other activities funded by the World Bank, development partners and the Afghan government.
With funding from the Government of Japan and the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction, the team set out to produce a comprehensive multi-hazard risk assessment at the national level.
After almost 12 months of intense work, and in close collaboration with and based on significant data input from the Afghan government, we have produced a high-quality multi-hazard risk assessment, with information on current and future risks including fluvial floods, flash floods, drought, landslides, snow avalanches and seismic hazards.
One of the key challenges faced during this process was data availability and collection. In a country like Afghanistan, data might not be available, and even when it does exist it is not well organized and readily available. Many hours and days were therefore spent on detective-work, tracking down datasets from government, development partners, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and others.
The World Bank has also worked closely with key UN partners under the auspices of a Disaster Risk Resilience Working Group, including World Food Program, United Nations Office for Project Services and United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Due to data limitation and security constraints, the team often had to rely on satellite information and global datasets provided by the World Meteorological Organization and other international partners.
The results of the risk assessment are visualized in the Afghanistan Risk Profile and the online geospatial Afghanistan Disaster Risk Info GeoNode.
The Risk Profile provides information on each of the hazards; floods, earthquakes, drought, avalanches and landslides, and key recommendations for risk mitigation measures to improve protection.
The GeoNode platform maps out risks in an open data format so users can run their own analysis and it is possible to zoom in on specific geographic locations to assess risks and plan accordingly. Users also find cost-benefit analysis for floods and earthquakes to showcase how these can inform development planning and implementation.
These tools are only a beginning. To ensure an actual impact on building resilience in Afghanistan, government counterparts and development planners, including the World Bank, now have to start using the risk maps and risk information to mainstream and integrate it across sectors and strengthen the resilience of infrastructure, building codes etc.
One example of mainstreaming the risk assessment is the safer schools program. We are already working with the Ministry of Education and the World Bank’s education team to assess the resilience of schools in Afghanistan and do a cost-benefit analysis of how to improve school construction of new schools and retrofit existing schools to ensure we build safer schools and safeguard children in Afghanistan.
Work is also ongoing in transport and rural development and should be initiated also in energy, urban and rural.
In transport the aim is to ensure more disaster resilient roads by prioritizing and implementing mitigation measures in high risk areas to some of the most common hazards like avalanches, landslides and floods.
In rural development, we are about to train engineers from Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development who work closely with community development councils under the Citizen Charter Program. The engineers will ensure that new community infrastructure projects are using disaster resilient design and take into consideration the findings of the risk assessment to construct more sustainable roads, wells and energy production.
While conflict and climate change have undermined Afghanistan’s capacity to mitigate the harmful effects of natural disasters, our goal is to equip the government of Afghanistan with the most relevant data it needs to identify vulnerabilities and risks, improve the country’s infrastructure, and build a resilient future for all its citizens.