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How can Sri Lanka better protect its people against disasters?

Thomas Walker's picture
A recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050
A recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050

Sri Lanka has a long history of coping with weather impacts.  

About two thousand years ago, the country built one of the world’s first irrigation system to control its water supply.

This feat of engineering, which boasted hundreds of kilometers of channels, tanks, and innovative valve pits, helped the great kingdoms of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa flourish into sophisticated societies and protect their people against hunger.

Not unlike these early civilizations, modern social protection programs have sheltered those affected by disaster through financial assistance and other forms of support.

Today, building resilience to natural disasters and other shocks is more critical than ever.

Since 1980, the frequency of natural disasters worldwide has increased by 250 percent, and the number of affected people has more than doubled.

Sri Lanka is no exception. The country ranked fourth most vulnerable to climate change in 2016.

Further to that, a recent World Bank report indicates that nine out of 10 of Sri Lankans may live in climate hotspots—or areas highly prone to floods or droughts—by 2050.

The losses caused by significant shocks like natural disasters have long-lasting consequences.

Children, especially, can suffer permanent damages if they are not educated or fed correctly in their critical early years.  

And the loss of assets, livestock, and crops can severely hurt small business owners and farmers and further discourage them from investing.

Sadly, natural disasters hit the poor the hardest as they tend to live in disaster-prone areas, work in agriculture, and usually don’t have savings or access to credit.

When a shock hits, wellbeing declines as people cut back on food and other essentials due to their loss of income or the high cost of rebuilding their homes.

And while some people gradually restore their standards of living, some never fully recover and get stuck in poverty.

But the poor aren’t the only ones who need to worry about shocks.

Today, a third of Sri Lankans are just a shock away from falling into poverty.

Our analysis of the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey reveals that a 20 percent sudden decrease in household welfare—or consumption shock—would more than double the poverty rate: almost 1 in 10 Sri Lankans would be poor.

If the shock triggered a 50 percent decrease in consumption, one in three Sri Lankan families would fall into poverty.

Bangladesh: Building resilience in the eye of the storm (Part 2/3)

Sameh Wahba's picture

Photo: Swarna Kazi / World Bank

This is the second of a three-part series, "Resilience in the of the Eye of the Storm," on how Bangladesh has become a leader in coastal resilience.

 
With a population of 160 million, Bangladesh is situated at the epicenter of some of the deadliest cyclones the world has ever experienced. Catastrophic events are the norm rather than the exception. A severe tropical cyclone can strike every 3 years and 25% of the land floods annually.
 
The network of the mighty Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna rivers makes its meandering journey through the delta into the Bay of Bengal forming the coast of Bangladesh.
 
The jagged coastline of Bangladesh spans hundreds of miles and is subject to multiple challenges: 62% of the coastal land has an elevation of up to 3 meters and 83% is up to 5 meters above sea level. These low-lying areas are highly vulnerable to natural hazards.
 
Earlier this year, I got a chance to see first-hand the challenges that this demanding landscape had brought onto the communities of a remote coastal village. What struck me most when speaking to members of this coastal community was their courage and resilience. Aware that a calamity can hit anytime, they struggle to protect their livelihoods affected by saltwater intrusion, and their own lives which are increasingly at risk due to rising sea levels, and exposure to more frequent and devastating storms and cyclones.
 
By 2050, the coastal population is projected to grow to 61 million people, whose livelihoods will increasingly be at risk due to the impact of climate change.
 
Triggered by climate change, seawater inundation could become a major problem for traditional agriculture. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (2014), climate-related declines in food productivity will impact livelihoods and exports and increase poverty. In Bangladesh, it is estimated that these factors would cause a net increase in poverty of 15% by 2030.
 
To mitigate against such risks, the government has been investing in strengthening the resilience of the coastal zone. Over the years, Bangladesh has become an example of how protective coastal infrastructure, together with social mobilization and community-based early warning systems, is helping to build resilience.

The growing role of women in disaster risk management

Malini Nambiar's picture
Also available in: 日本語
Women Community Leaders
Women community leaders. Photo Credit: World Bank


Women are seen in their traditional role of home-makers, but might their ability to take on managerial roles in disaster risk management be underestimated?
 
As part of the India Disaster Risk Management team, I travelled on the “Road2Resilience” bus journey along the entire coast of India. Along with the team’s mission to provide implementation support to the six coastal disaster management projects, I also focused on women’s participation in the mitigation activities of these projects.
 
Women’s participation in Disaster Risk Management in India has been sporadic. However, my interactions with the community - especially women - highlighted how women in coastal India are seriously taking disaster risk management into their own hands.