In the days following the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the World Bank disaster risk management (DRM) community worked to assess the damage, and support the Haitian government plan and enact what would become a massive and protracted recovery from this profound disaster. Accurate and up to date maps of the country were an important component of these planning efforts. These maps came from an unexpected source, a global community of volunteer mappers, who, using their internet connections and access to satellite imagery, were able to contribute to mapping Haiti from their own homes.
Following the Haiti earthquake, the World Bank, Google, and several other entities made high-resolution imagery of the affected area available to the public. Over 600 individuals from the global OpenStreetMap (OSM) community began digitizing the imagery, tracing roads, building outlines, and other infrastructure, creating what quickly became the most detailed map of Port au Prince that had ever existed. Volunteers from 29 countries made about 1.2 million edits to the map, performing an estimated year of cartographic work in about 20 days. This effort catalyzed a rethinking of community mapping and open data within the World Bank and other international institutions.
Losses due to disasters to human and physical capital are on the rise across the world. Over the past 30 years, total losses have tripled, amounting to $3.5 trillion. While the majority of these losses were experienced in OECD countries, the trend is increasingly moving towards losses in rapidly growing states.
In a sense, increasing risk and losses caused by disaster are the byproduct of a positive trend - strong development gains and economic growth. This is because disaster loss is a function of the amount of human and physical assets exposed to seismic or hydrometeorological hazards, and the level of vulnerability of the assets. The richer a country gets, the more assets it builds or acquires, and therefore the more losses it potentially faces.
Rapid development across South Asia signals the need to commit greater efforts to increase resilience to disaster and climate risk. It also requires governments to develop a strategy to both protect against events today and to develop strategies to address the losses of the future. This is a challenge somewhat unique to South Asia. The losses of today, predominantly rural flooding that impacts wide swaths of vulnerable populations, will begin to diminish in relative importance to the losses of the future.