After more than two hours stranded at a small town train station near Tokyo, Japan, with record snowfall and freezing temperatures outside our windows, the train driver addressed us for the third time – no new updates. “Our personnel are working to fix the problem,” the voice said. At that moment, an older man seated next to me leaned over and told me, “We have to do our part; the people working in the snow are trying their best to fix the system, so we can move. We should remain calm and wait - we cannot be part of the problem.” I was starting to understand why Japanese are so resilient.
This adventure began last February, following my participation in the launch of the new, $100 million joint program between Japan and the World Bank for disaster risk reduction. This program, implemented by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), will benefit a large number of especially vulnerable countries around the world. As part of this new initiative, the World Bank also launched the Disaster Risk Management Tokyo Hub.
The launch for the Tokyo Hub was held at a high level symposium at the Japan Kaindaren (Association of Japanese Trade Associations) on February 3, which attracted more than 400 people and had substantial media coverage. The Senior Vice-Minister for Finance/Senior Vice-Minister for Reconstruction Jiro Aichi (a native of Sendai) spoke of Japan's commitment to disaster risk management (DRM) and thanked the World Bank for its strong support, before kicking off an intense program of inter-agency meetings to better utilize Japanese expertise in DRM practices.
My experience with Japanese solidarity and resilience, however, was best highlighted the day I was returning home. On February 9, as I was trying to get to Narita airport, more than 27 centimeters of snow fell on Tokyo and other areas of Japan, the heaviest of 40 years. Many buildings in the city collapsed, leaving at least 11 dead and more than 1,200 injured across the country.
These are exciting days at the World Bank Group. We are getting ready to receive delegates from our 188 member countries, who will gather in Washington for the WBG-IMF Spring Meetings.
It is an especially important time for the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the disaster risk management team at the World Bank, as we prepare to host – together with the European Union, the Government of Japan, and USAID – the fourth round of the Resilience Dialogue. This round we are focusing on the role disaster and climate resilience can play in the post-2015 development framework.
Disaster and climate risks were not addressed as part of the original framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Recent experience has provided countless examples of the devastating impacts of disasters – impacts that go well beyond dollar signs or GDP statistics. It has become evident that disaster and climate risks are impediments to the achievement of poverty reduction and sustainable development goals, and should therefore be integrated in the development framework that will replace the MDGs.
Looking at communities across our planet, there is a brutal lack of resilience in our modern lives. Cities have expanded without careful planning into flood- and storm-prone areas, destroying natural storm barriers and often leaving the poor to find shelter in the most vulnerable spots. Droughts, made more frequent by climate change, have taken a toll on crops, creating food shortages.
In the past 30 years, disasters have killed over 2.3 million people, about the population of Houston or all of Namibia.
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