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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.

Over the last nine months, members of the community have identified four inter-linked areas where we can engage to increase transport infrastructure resilience:
  • Maintenance & asset management for climate resilience. Adequate road maintenance is the most critical and most efficient way of reducing the impact of climate change on the road system. In the absence of an adequate maintenance regime, the damage caused by climactic events is exacerbated.

  • Systems planning for strategic construction and network development. Network resilience requires a combination of measures to increase the robustness of particular segments and measures to build redundancy. Screening can help identify risks and design proactive planning responses. To that end, we are increasingly supporting countries to (i) conduct structured vulnerability assessments to identify priority cost-effective resilience measures; and (ii) develop strategies to build redundancy in their road networks to reduce the impact of disruptions on critical links. Spatial planning can be a powerful tool to avoid or protect vulnerable areas and even relocate existing infrastructure in some circumstances.

  • Engineering & design standardization for improved capacity. Climate stressors most directly affecting road networks include temperature (pavement performance, freeze-thaw cycles), increased precipitation and flooding (which affects the design of subgrades, cross drainage structures), impacts on river flows (that significantly affect the design of bridges and bridge abutments) and sea level rise and associated storm surges (affecting all coastal infrastructure). Innovation in materials and construction methods is becoming increasingly important.

  • Contingency Programming for better response mechanisms. Other measures are related to better preparedness for system response to incidents: coordination with other lifeline sectors; aligning with early warning systems and emergency preparedness needs; institutional protocols for post-incident response; procurement and budgeting arrangements that allow responsiveness to incidents without compromising public finance accountability. Such system-wide elements are increasingly important in World Bank road projects.
While risks are, in many ways, localized and contextual (economic, social, environmental, spatial, temporal, etc.), methods for enhancing the resilience of transport infrastructure are largely standardized. This presents an opportunity to create efficiency by sharing knowledge, ultimately making big strides across the board such that resources can be freed up to focus on other pressing needs.
 
We hope this partnership will produce and disseminate knowledge (including with blogs such as this), and lead to better investments as groups with different expertise work jointly together. We hope that, within two to three years, we will be able to achieve measureable results along at least three dimensions:
  • Joint support to client countries to improve the resilience of their transport networks;

  • Sustained innovation in analytics, methods, and solutions – both supporting and facilitating innovations as well as finding ways to speed up deployment of proven innovations globally

  • Flagship programs. In the next two years, with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the Korean Green Growth Trust Fund, we aim to identify and build systematic and global programs that address specific challenges that our clients face in the lifecycle of their projects. The first of these is the asset management program for Small Island Developing States.
We encourage you all to join this community that aims to deliver tangible results to clients through knowledge, systems, and financial support.