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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.
 

Three innovative approaches for managing disaster risks

Emma Phillips's picture

When Dara Dotz, an industrial designer, travelled to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, she saw firsthand the supply chain challenges people were facing that had life threatening consequences – most vividly, a nurse having to use her medical gloves to tie off the umbilical cords of newborn babies, because she didn’t have access to an umbilical clamp. Deploying a 3D printer, Dara was able to design a locally manufactured, inexpensive plastic clamp that could be used in the local hospitals for newborns.
 
From there, Dara co-founded Field Ready, an NGO that is part of the “maker movement,” which pilots new technologies to rapidly manufacture components of essential supplies in the field. Using 3D printing and a range of software, Field Ready works with volunteers to make lifesaving medical components like IV bag hooks, oxygen splitters, and umbilical cord clamps, an approach that has often proven to be both quicker and cheaper than waiting for shipments to arrive.


This is one example of local innovation and design in disaster situations. With trends of rising population growth, increased urbanization, and climate projections of more frequent and intense weather, more people and assets are at risk from natural hazards. Communities and governments need to think creatively and find new ways to build resilience, and some of the latest developments in science and technology can provide promising solutions.

Over the past few decades, there has been an exponential increase in the amount of information and data that is open and available – whether from satellites and drones collecting data from above, or from crowdsourced information and social media from citizens on the ground. When analyzed holistically, this data can provide valuable insight for understanding the risks and establishing a common operating picture.

Why cultural heritage matters for urban resilience

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture

Across the disaster risk management community, there is growing recognition that protecting cultural heritage is fundamental to urban resilience. Traditional knowledge embedded in cultural heritage, such as historical evacuation routes or shelters, can help societies cope with natural hazards. Moreover, when these hazards disrupt cultural heritage sites, such as museums, monuments and places of worship, they often cause irreparable damage to people’s cultures, identities and livelihoods.

A case in point is last year’s devastating earthquake in central Mexico, which damaged over 1,500 historic buildings, including the 250-year-old Church of Santa Prisca, one of the country’s grandest and most beloved churches. Mexico is one of a number of countries that have undertaken major efforts to protect cultural heritage sites, including through its Plan Verde, which works to reduce seismic and other disaster risks in Mexico City’s historic center.

On the sidelines of the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, which was aptly held in Mexico City, Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit for the Culture Sector of UNESCO, made the case that much more needs to be done to put cultural heritage front and center in the disaster risk management agenda.

Five actions for disability-inclusive disaster risk management

Margaret Arnold's picture
Photo Credit: Guilhem Alandry doculab Malteser International / Flickr CC

While disasters threaten the well-being of people from all walks of life, few are as disproportionately affected as the over one billion people around the world who live with disabilities. Following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, for example, the fatality rate for persons with disabilities was up to four times higher than that of the general population.
 
Persons with disabilities are especially vulnerable when disaster strikes not only due to aspects of their disabilities, but also because they are more likely, on average, to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities, including higher poverty rates. Disasters and poorly planned disaster response and recovery efforts can exacerbate these disparities, leaving persons with disabilities struggling to cope even more both during and after the emergency.
 
In advance of the Global Disability Summit, and drawing on a recent report titled “Disability Inclusion in Disaster Risk Management” from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and the Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank, here are five actions that development institutions, governments, and other key stakeholders can take to ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind in the aftermath of a disaster. 

For thriving cities, people vs. nature is a false choice

Joel Paque's picture
Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York
Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York. Photo credit: © Kevin Arnold
Municipal leaders face hundreds of difficult choices every day. With so many needs and worthy programs, how does one choose where to invest limited funding? In the face of pressing human needs, cities too often decide that funding for environmental programs will have to wait.

But pitting people against nature in this way offers a false choice.

The disaster risk management funding gap in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries

Thomas Lennartz's picture

Saddled with weak political systems and ravaged by strife, fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries suffer some of the largest losses from natural disasters. According to the Overseas Development Institute, 58 percent of deaths from disasters between 2004 and 2014 occurred in countries with fragile contexts. Across the globe, rapid urbanization and climate change are further increasing the exposure and vulnerability of these communities to natural hazards.


Yet, even as people in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries struggle to cope with the growing dangers from natural disasters, the international donor community has been slow to respond, explains Thomas Lennartz of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). Tellingly between 2005 and 2010, for every $100 spent on humanitarian assistance to these countries, only $1.30 was spent on disaster risk management (DRM).
 
So what can be done to help close this funding gap? In this video from the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, hosted by GFDRR and the World Bank, Lennartz offers his take – and shares a few insights on GFDRR’s emerging DRM portfolio in fragile, conflict and violence-affected countries.
 

After disasters hit, how countries and communities can build back better

Sameh Wahba's picture
This page in: Français

Disaster losses disproportionately affect poor people, according to the 2017 “Unbreakable” report. The Caribbean Hurricane season of 2017 was a tragic illustration of this.

Not one, but two Category 5 hurricanes wreaked destruction on numerous small islands, causing severe damages on islands like Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Martin. The human cost of these disasters was immense, and the impact of this devastation was felt most strongly by poorer communities in the path of the storms.
 
And yet, amidst the destruction, it is essential to look forward and to build back better.
 
A new report, “Building Back Better: Achieving Resilience through Strong, Faster, and More Inclusive Post-Disaster Reconstruction,” explores how countries can strengthen their resilience to natural shocks through a better reconstruction process. It shows that reconstruction needs to be: 

 

What Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines told us about building back better

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

The Philippines is increasingly exposed and vulnerable to natural hazards.
 
Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), which struck the country in 2013, was considered one of the strongest tropical storms ever to make landfall (at 380 kilometer / hour wind gusts). It caused over 6,300 fatalities and affected 1,472,251 families in 171 cities and municipalities across the 14 provinces in 6 regions. Total damage and loss was estimated at $12.9 billion (Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda 2013).
 
The World Bank assessed the post-Yolanda rehabilitation and recovery efforts, and this has resulted in the following recommendations:

 

Understanding Risk Forum 2018: How data and technology can save (hundreds of) billions of dollars from natural disasters

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Natural disasters made 2017 a very expensive year.
 
At $330 billion, last year’s global losses from disasters set a record. These economic losses were primarily a result of meteorological events, such as floods and hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. An increasing number of people are also exposed to tectonic risks, such as earthquakes and landslides, due to rapid urbanization.
 
But growing disaster losses aren’t inevitable. Policy changes, education, and good disaster risk management practices have been proven to reduce losses – and the foundation of all of them is accurate, reliable information about disaster risks.
 
Risk data informs resilience investments. It drives decision-making. And it’s the focus of the open, global community of disaster risk management experts and practitioners called Understanding Risk (UR), which is supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).
 
This year, the community will convene at the Understanding Risk Forum 2018 May 14–18 in Mexico City. The Forum will highlight best practices, facilitate nontraditional partnerships, and showcase the latest technical knowledge in disaster risk identification.



It’s a critical time for a discussion of disaster risk information. A new GFDRR report, Aftershocks: Remodeling the Past for a Resilient Future, concludes that if past disasters were to repeat in the same places today, the losses would be far greater. Aftershocks, which will be discussed at UR2018, explores what we can learn from historic disasters to anticipate similar future events and build resilience ahead of time.
 
The good news is that the past few years have seen a surge of new ways to get more accurate, more detailed information more quickly, more easily, and in more difficult contexts. We can now use social media to gather increasingly valuable information in the immediate aftermath of an event. Drones are increasingly capturing high-quality images, and machine learning for image recognition is already helping us produce more and better risk data all the time.
 
These emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, will be one of the major themes of this year’s UR Forum. To find out more about the UR Forum, and how you can get involved, watch the video blog and visit understandrisk.org.
 
And don’t forget to keep up with all the great ideas coming out of #UR2018 by following along on Twitter: @UnderstandRisk, @GFDRR, and @WBG_Cities.

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