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Can the rubble of history help shape today’s resilient cities?

David Sislen's picture

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Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that, in 1755, Portugal suffered a catastrophic disaster so severe that it cast a long shadow over politics, religion, philosophy, and science?

During an All Saints’ Day mass in Lisbon in that fateful year, an 8.5-magnitude earthquake collapsed cathedrals, triggered a 20-foot tsunami, and sparked devastating fires that destroyed nearly 70% of the city’s 23,000 buildings.

The death toll was estimated between 10,000-50,000, leaving the center of a global empire in ruins, with losses equivalent to 32%-48% of Portugal's GDP at the time.

Never in the European history had a natural disaster received such international attention.

The “Great Lisbon Earthquake” had a resounding impact across Europe: Depictions of the earthquake in art and literature – the equivalent of today’s mass media – were reproduced for centuries and across several countries. Rousseau, influenced by the devastation, argued against large and dense cities in the wake of the disaster, while Immanuel Kant published three separate texts on the disaster, becoming one of the first thinkers to attempt to explain earthquakes by natural, rather than supernatural, causes.

In the years to follow, careful studies of the event would give rise to modern seismology.

Disasters, funds, and policy: Creatively meeting urgent needs and long-term policy goals

Zuzana Stanton-Geddes's picture

Photo: tro-kilinochchi / Flickr

When it comes to responding to disasters, time is of the essence. Help needs to come immediately to save lives; recovery and reconstruction have to start swiftly to lessen the impact.

However, while money is critical to this response, it’s not just about funding. Indeed, funds need to match the event scale, target the right areas and sectors, and smoothly flow to communities in need. But in order for that to happen, sound public policy on risk and frameworks have to be in place.  

To address both urgent financial needs while pursing strategic disaster risk management policy goals, countries have been using the World Bank’s development policy loan with a catastrophe deferred drawdown option or, more widely known as the Cat DDO.