The World Bank Group has launched its Action Plan on Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience. As an institution that is committed to development, the World Bank has an enormous responsibility to help countries and communities act early, to build resilience to what we know they are going to be facing – more frequent and more dramatic climate disasters because of climate change.
In fact, over the past 30 years, more than 2.5 million people and almost $4 trillion have been lost to disasters caused by natural hazards, with global losses quadrupling from $50 billion a year in the 1980s to $200 billion in the last decade, reaching $330 billion in global losses in 2017.
On August 14, 2017, after three days of intense rain, a massive side slope of the Sugar Loaf – the highest mountain in the north of Sierra Leone’s Western Area Peninsula – collapsed and slipped into the Babadorie River Valley.
The mudslide affected about 6,000 people. Up to 1,141 of them were declared dead or missing. The deadly disaster also caused major destruction of infrastructure near the capital city of Freetown.
What caused the slope to collapse? A complex set of factors, such as record-breaking rainfall and nature of the slope, may have contributed to the incident. However, many expert assessments suggest it was mainly "a man-made disaster" due to the rapid urbanization and expansion of Freetown – coupled with poor urban planning.
Like most West African cities, Freetown is plagued with unregulated building structures, residential housing in disaster-prone hilltop areas, and unplanned settlements that intensify deforestation and increase the risk of mudslides. To make things worse, many of the properties affected by the August 2017 mudslide were encroaching on the Western Area National Park, a forest reserve that still holds one of the last reserves of unspoiled forest in Sierra Leone.
To achieve these goals, working with cities will be essential: with almost 80% of GHG emissions emanating from urban areas, cities are among the biggest contributors to climate change... and must, inevitably, become a big part of the solution.
Cities are also particularly vulnerable to climate risk and other forms of natural hazards, with many of them located in disaster-prone areas. Therefore, enhancing disaster resilience in urban settings is another key requirement to build more sustainable cities in the face of climate change.
The good news? Many countries are still in the early stages of the urbanization process, meaning they have a unique opportunity to develop sustainable cities right from the beginning - a much more viable option than trying to retrofit them later on.
In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and Practice Manager Bernice Van Bronkhorst explain how they are working with clients to make climate-smart cities a reality.
If you want to learn more about this topic, we invite you to discover our latest Sustainable Communities podcast.