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Thank goodness, we had an extra bridge in stock!

Malaika Becoulet's picture
Credit: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory
On October 4, 2016, category 4 Hurricane Matthew struck the southern part of Haiti. Strong winds and rain triggered heavy flooding and landslides that resulted in 500 fatalities, along with widespread infrastructure damage and economic loss. The hurricane caused the collapse of the Ladigue Bridge, a vital asset connecting the southern peninsula of Haiti to the capital city and the rest of the country. The collapse left 1.4 million people completely isolated, making it extremely hard to deliver the aid and humanitarian assistance they needed. Overall damage and losses were equivalent to 32% of GDP, with transport accounting for almost a fifth of the total.
 
Haiti is among the countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters including hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes—the result of a combination of factors that include high exposure to natural hazards, vulnerable infrastructure, environmental degradation, institutional fragility, and a lack of adequate investment in resilience. In Haiti, 80% of people and goods are transported by road. First aid and humanitarian resources, often concentrated in Port-au-Prince, need to transit through congested and sometimes inaccessible roads to reach affected areas. In that context, strengthening and building resilient infrastructure is key.
 
Since 2008, the World Bank has supported the reconstruction of 15 major bridges and stabilized 300 kilometers of roads to enhance the resilience of Haiti’s transport network. One of the most significant innovations that came out of this effort was the adoption of standardized emergency bridges that can be assembled within 2- 3 months from pre-designed and interchangeable components.

Maximizing finance for safe and resilient roads

Daniel Pulido's picture


Around the world, roads remain the dominant mode of transport and are among the most heavily-used types of infrastructure, accounting for about 80% of the distance travelled for individuals and 50% for goods.

Despite this intensive use, the funding available for road maintenance has been inadequate, leaving roads in many countries unsafe and unfit for purpose.

To make matters worse, roads are also very vulnerable to climate and disaster risk: when El Niño hit Peru in 2017, the related flooding damaged about 18% of the Peruvian road network in just one month.

It is no surprise then that roads are the sector that will require the most financing. In fact, the G20 estimates that roads account for more than half of the $15 trillion investment gap in infrastructure through 2040.

Maximizing finance for sustainable urban mobility

Daniel Pulido's picture
Photo: ITDP Africa/Flickr

The World Bank Group (WBG) is currently implementing a new approach to development finance that will help better support our poverty reduction and shared prosperity goals. This crucial effort, dubbed Maximizing Finance for Development (MFD), seeks to leverage the private sector and optimize the use of scarce public resources to finance development projects in a way that is fiscally, environmentally, and socially sustainable.
 
There are several reasons why cities and transport planners should pay close attention to the MFD approach. First, while the need for sustainable urban mobility is greater than ever before, the available financing is nowhere near sufficient—and the financing gap only grows wider when you consider the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation. At the same time, worldwide investment commitments in transport projects with private participation have fallen in the last three years and currently stand near a 10-year low. When private investment does go to transport, it tends to be largely concentrated in higher income countries and specific subsectors like ports, airports, and roads. Finally, there is a lot of private money earning low yields and waiting to be invested in good projects. The aspiration is to try to get some of that money invested in sustainable urban mobility.

Why sustainable mobility matters

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Photo: Mariana Gil/WRI
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.

Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty. Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.

At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.

What El Niño has taught us about infrastructure resilience

Irene Portabales González's picture
Also available in: Español
Photo: Ministerio de Defensa del Perú/Flickr
The rains in northern Peru have been 10 times stronger than usual this year, leading to floods, landslides and a declaration of a state of emergency in 10 regions in the country. Together with the human and economic toll, these downpours have inflicted tremendous damage to transport infrastructure with added and serious consequences on people’s lives.

These heavy rains are blamed on El Niño, a natural phenomenon characterized by an unusual warming of the sea surface temperature in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon occurs every two to seven years, and lasts about 18 months at a time. El Niño significantly disrupts precipitation and wind patterns, giving rise to extreme weather events around the planet.

In Peru, this translates into rising temperatures along the north coast and intense rainfall, typically shortly before Christmas. That’s also when “huaicos” appear. “Huaico,” a word that comes from the Quechua language (wayq’u), refers to the enormous masses of mud and rocks carried by torrential rains from the Andes into rivers, causing them to overflow. These mudslides result from a combination of several natural factors including heavy rains, steep slopes, scarce vegetation, to name a few. But human factors also come into play and exacerbate their impact. That includes, in particular, the construction of human settlements in flood-prone basins or the absence of a comprehensive approach to disaster risk management.

This year’s floods are said to be comparable to those caused by El Niño in 1997-1998, one of the largest natural disasters in recent history, which claimed the lives of 374 people and caused US$1.2 billion worth of damages (data provided by the Peruvian National Institute of Civil Defense).

In India, this transport engineer is racing toward the future… with German supercars

Shigeyuki Sakaki's picture
Harsh, a civil engineer from Surendranagar, the western State of Gujarat in India, proudly has a collection of supercars recently delivered from Germany. They are all brand new with sleek designs, glossy paint, and fully loaded with state-of-the-art features. One of them is a 600 horse-power monster, another is the first of its kind in India.
 
Without further ado, let's see what he has...

Climate is changing… So the way we manage roads needs to change as well

Chris Bennett's picture
Photo: Christopher R. Bennett/World Bank
Few things are more depressing than seeing the damage caused by cyclones on transport infrastructure. Especially when it is a causeway that was only formally opened less than one month before the storm. That is what I found in early 2014 when participating in the Tonga Cyclone Ian Post Disaster Needs Assessment. The cyclone was a typical example of the heavy toll that climate change is taking on transport infrastructure, particularly in the most vulnerable countries.

Engineers are taught that water is the greatest enemy of transport infrastructure, and unfortunately climate change is leading to an increase in floods and storms, especially within the South-East Asia region. For example, the figure below shows the number of floods and storms for some Asian countries between 2000 and 2008. The significant increase in the number of floods is self-evident.

The “plastic bridge”: a low-cost, high-impact solution to address climate risk

Oliver Whalley's picture
Also available in: Français
Photo: Anthony Doudt/Flickr
Bridges are critical links in the transport network. In their position across waterways, they are exposed to the full effects of flooding and landslides, and are often the first pieces of infrastructure to be damaged in the event of a disaster. They also typically take weeks or months to repair.  Besides causing expensive damage to the infrastructure itself, disruptions in connectivity also have a much broader impact on economic productivity and people’s ability to access essential services. As many places are expected to witness more intense and frequent rainfall as a result of climate change, the risk to bridges will only worsen: more rainfall will lead to bigger river flows and more damage to bridges, especially those designed to handle smaller storms.

At each end of a bridges is a structure which supports the weight of the deck. These are known as abutments, and they are often the first part of the bridge to fail. Blockage of the main channel by debris can cause water to look for the path of least resistance around the sides of the bridges, thus placing the abutments at risk.

Traditional bridge construction requires the installation of piles for the foundations of abutments—a lengthy and expensive process that involves specialist materials, skills and equipment.

But there is another promising solution: Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil (GRS) abutments. These allow for rapid and resilient construction of bridge abutments using locally available materials, without specialized equipment. With GRS, bridges can be constructed in as little as five days (Von Handorf, 2013) and at a cost 30-50% lower than traditional approaches (Tonkin and Taylor, 2016) .

GRS abutments are based on ‘geogrids,’ a high density mesh made out of polyethylene (plastic). Layers of soil and geogrid are combined to create a solid foundation for the bridge deck. Construction can be completed with basic earthmoving and compaction equipment, and a range of local fill materials can be used with guidance from geotechnical specialists.

Climate change is forcing us to reinvent rural transport for the better

Ashok Kumar's picture
Photo: Ravisankar Pandian/Flickr
India is in the midst of implementing PMGSY, a $35-billion national level Rural Road Program designed to provide basic road access to rural communities. The World Bank is supporting PMGSY through a series of lending operations ($1.8 billion in Bank funding) and significant knowledge support. A key element of the Bank’s support has been to integrate a “climate and green growth lens” into these efforts in cost-effective ways.

How is “green growth” benefiting India? One important dimension of that effort has been  the use of environmentally optimized road designs, which has resulted in quality infrastructure using local and marginal materials, providing both economic and environmental benefits. Where available, sand deposits accumulated from frequent floods, industrial by-products, and certain types of plastic, mining, and construction waste have been used to good effect. Designs that use such materials have been about 25% cheaper to build, on average, than those requiring commonly used rock aggregates. The environmental benefits of using the above materials, in terms of addressing the big disposal problem of such materials and reducing the consumption of scarce natural stone aggregates, are as significant as the cost savings.

A second “green growth” dimension has been focusing investments on the “core” network, i.e. the network India needs to develop in order to provide access to all villages. Relative to a total rural road network of about 3.3 million kilometers, the core network that falls under PMGSY stretches over only 1.1 million kilometers. Prioritizing construction and maintenance on those critical road links will bring down costs as well as the associated carbon footprint.

A new partnership to enhance the climate resilience of transport infrastructure

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Photo: Norsez Oh/Flickr
Since 2002, more than 260,000 kilometers of road were constructed or rehabilitated by World Bank supported projects. For these investments, and future Bank transport investments to really realize their intended impact supporting the Bank to achieve its twin goals, we believe it is critical that they are resilient to climate and possible climate change.
 
Already transport damages and losses often make up a significant proportion of the economic impacts of disasters, frequently surpassing destruction to housing and agriculture in value terms. For example, a fiscal disaster risk assessment in Sri Lanka highlighted that over 1/3 of all damages and losses over the past 15 years were to the transport network. Damage is sustained not only by road surfaces or structures, but also by bridges, culverts, and other drainage works, while losses occur when breaks in transport links lead to reduced economic activity.
 
Along with additional stress from swelling urban populations worldwide, rising sea levels, changes in temperatures and rain patterns, and increasing severity and frequency of floods and storm events are the key climate change factors that make conditions more volatile. Ultimately it is these scenarios and their potential outcomes that threaten the longevity and functionality of much existing transport infrastructure. Indeed, damage to transport infrastructure and consequent disruption to communities from climactic events is a growing threat.
 
Compounding the challenge of addressing these conditions is the difficulty that exists in precisely forecasting the magnitude, and in some cases the direction, of changing climactic parameters for any particular location. Meanwhile, the risk of wasting scarce resources by ‘over designing’ is as real as the dangers of climate damage to under designed infrastructure.
 
To identify the optimal response of our client governments to this threat and to ensure that all transport infrastructure supported by the Bank is disaster and climate resilient, we have created a joint partnership between the Bank’s transport and disaster risk management (DRM) communities – a partnership of complementary expertise to identify practical cost-effective approaches to an evolving challenge. We have come together to better define where roads and other transport assets should be built, how they should be maintained, and how they can be repaired quickly after a disaster to enable swift recovery.

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