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Disasters

Risk models and storytelling – learning from past disasters for a more resilient future

Emma Phillips's picture



In the early afternoon of September 3, 1930, the San Zenon Hurricane struck Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. With winds of up to 250 kilometers per hour, one of the deadliest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic pummeled the coastal city, destroying entire neighborhoods and claiming the lives of as many as 8,000 people.
 
What would happen if a hurricane of a similar magnitude hit Santo Domingo today? Nearly 90 years on, only the oldest Dominicans have any direct recollection of the devastation. For most residents of present-day Santo Domingo, the consequences of another cataclysmic hurricane making landfall near their city are hard to imagine.
 
Be it hurricanes like San Zenon or volcanic eruptions such as that of Mount Vesuvius, analyzing natural events that led to the major disasters of yesteryear can help us get a fuller grasp of how similar events might impact today’s more populous, urbanized, and connected world. 

Resilient housing joins the machine learning revolution

Sarah Elizabeth Antos's picture
Also available in: Español | Français  | 中文 

 World Bank

Machine learning algorithms are excellent at answering “yes” or “no” questions. For example, they can scan huge datasets and correctly tell us: Does this credit card transaction look fraudulent? Is there a cat in this photo?

But it’s not only the simple questions – they can also tackle nuanced and complex questions.

Today, machine learning algorithms can detect over 100 types of cancerous tumors more reliably than a trained human eye. Given this impressive accuracy, we started to wonder: what could machine learning tell us about where people live? In cities that are expanding at breathtaking rates and are at risk from natural disasters, could it warn us that a family’s wall might collapse during an earthquake or rooftop blow away during a hurricane?

The rise of local mapping communities

Vivien Deparday's picture
More than 150 people participated in the SotM Africa conference in 2017. (Courtesy of SotM Africa)
More than 150 people participated in the SotM Africa conference in 2017. (Courtesy of SotM Africa)

There is a unique space where you can encounter everyone from developers of self-driving cars in Silicon Valley to city planners in Niamey to humanitarian workers in Kathmandu Valley: the global OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. It comprises a geographically and experientially diverse network of people who contribute to OSM, a free and editable map of the world that is often called the “Wikipedia of maps.”  

What is perhaps most special about this community is its level playing field. Anyone passionate about collaborative mapping can have a voice from anywhere in the world. In the past few years, there has been a meteoric rise of locally organized mapping communities in developing countries working to improve the map in service of sustainable development activities.

The next opportunity to see the OSM community in action will be the November 14th mapathon hosted by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)’s Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI). Mapathons bring together volunteers to improve the maps of some of the world’s most vulnerable areas, not only easing the way for emergency responders when disaster strikes, but also helping cities and communities plan and build more resiliently for the future.

Urban 20: Cities at the center of local solutions to global development challenges

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
 

With the world becoming more urban than ever before, cities are at the core of the global development agenda. They play such a pivotal role in addressing global challenges and improving citizen’s lives that the battle against poverty and climate change to build inclusive, resilient, and sustainable communities will be won or lost in cities.
 

Five ways to do better post-disaster assessments

Joe Leitmann's picture
2017 damage and loss assessment following landslides and floods in Sierra Leone. Photo: World Bank
2017 damage and loss assessment following landslides and floods in Sierra Leone. (Photo: World Bank)

Post-disaster assessments changed my life by starting my career in disaster risk management. Three months after arriving in Indonesia as the World Bank’s environment coordinator, the Indian Ocean tsunami and related earthquakes struck Aceh and Nias at the end of 2004. I was asked to pull together the economic evaluation of the disaster’s environmental impact as part of what was then known as a damage-and-loss assessment. Subsequently, the World Bank, United Nations and European Union agreed on a joint approach to crisis response in 2008, including a common methodology for post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA).

Now that we have a decade of experience with this approach, what have we learned and how can we do a better job in the future?

When disasters displace people, land records and geospatial data are key to protect property rights and build resilience

Anna Wellenstein's picture
 


Droughts, floods, hurricanes, and other disasters displaced over 24 million people in 2016. When people leave their homes behind, land records offer critical protection of their property rights. This is crucial, as land and homes are usually the main assets that people have. Land and geospatial information is key to ensure that land records are comprehensive and secure.

Land and geospatial information tells the what, who, where, how much, and other key attributes of a property. Without this information, it is almost impossible for cities and communities to develop proper disaster response or preparedness plans.

Comprehensive land and geospatial systems can secure the resilient recovery of economic activities – by providing accessible and instant data on disaster impact, the value of losses, the beneficiaries, as well as the levels of appropriate compensation and required investment to restore activities.

Building better before the next disaster: How retrofitting homes can save lives and strengthen economies

Sameh Wahba's picture
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Save Lives, Secure Economies

For a family, having a place to call home is everything. Housing tends to be a family’s most important asset – often, in fact, their only asset, especially for the poor. But more than a home, housing is also the workplace, collateral for loans and an important vehicle for job creation. In the U.S., housing contributes more than 15% of the GDP.

The dream of housing, however, can quickly turn into a nightmare – for both families and for governments. Disasters can erase decades of progress in reform and poverty reduction in a matter of seconds, hurting the poor and vulnerable the most. A review of the World Bank’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessments (PDNAs) since 2000 shows that housing comprises 40%-90% of damages to private property.

Worse still, unsafe housing can be life-threatening when disasters strike. More than 1.3 million people worldwide have died in disasters caused by natural hazards in the last 25 years.

Here’s what everyone should know about waste

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture



Solid waste management is a universal issue that affects every single person in the world.

As you can see in our new report, What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050, if we don’t manage waste properly, it can harm our health, our environment, and even our prosperity.

Poorly managed waste is contaminating the world’s oceans, clogging drains and causing flooding, transmitting diseases, increasing respiratory problems from burning, harming animals that consume waste unknowingly, and affecting economic development such as through tourism.

Without urgent action, these issues will only get worse. Here’s what everyone should know.

 

A disaster that could have been avoided: Enhancing resilience with land and geospatial data

Alvaro Federico Barra's picture
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Areas affected by the August 2017 mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
(Photos: Robert Reid and Ivan Bruce / World Bank)

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.

Why understanding disaster risk matters for sustainable development

Sameh Wahba's picture

Risk financing, social protection, seismic risk, and open data – these are just some of the key themes that have drawn hundreds of urban resilience and disaster risk management experts and practitioners to Belgrade, Serbia this week for Understanding Risk (UR) Balkans.
 

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