At first sight, SXSW may appear to have little in common with the World Bank Group, the largest development institution in the world. Yet, creativity and technology, the two founding principles of SXSW, are often cited as two key factors for the World Bank Group to tackle the most daunting development challenges of the 21st century. At this year’s SXSW, a number of panel discussions around innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology in emerging markets are bringing the World Bank’s development agenda and Austin’s passion for technology much closer together. Among them two panels focusing on the risk and return of African Tech startups, and the innovation ecosystem in emerging markets, organized by infoDev, a World Bank program that supports innovation and entrepreneurship globally.
SENDAI, Japan – Without better preparation for disasters – whether they be earthquakes and tidal waves, extreme weather events, or future pandemics – we put lives and economies at risk. We also have no chance to be the first generation in human history that can end extreme poverty.
Just a few days ago, the world was again reminded of our vulnerability to disasters, after Tropical Cyclone Pam, one of the most powerful storms ever to make landfall, devastated the islands of Vanuatu. Some reports found that as much as 90 percent of the housing in Port Vila was badly damaged. When the cyclone hit, I was in Sendai for the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place only a few days after the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. That quake and subsequent tsunami tragically resulted in more than 15,000 deaths and caused an estimated $300 billion in damage.
World Bank Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte speaks from the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction underway in Sendai, Japan, about the need for greater investment in resilience. As the conference was taking place, a Category 5 cyclone swept across Vanuatu, leaving destruction in its wake.
Actually I talk, and she goes "okay, okay" looking out the window.
She and I have learned a few new facts to share: one is the linkage of irregular precipitation associated with global climate change.
Chris Mooney, the environment and climate change writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote a great article explaining why more snow is another result of climate change. D.C. is on the south border of the NE of the United States, where, as you can see from the map, (provided by the US National Climate Assessment), extreme rain/snow events have increased dramatically. Similarly, in Jerusalem three weeks ago, the snow came with sleet, blueberry-size hailstones (see below) and lightning.
It’s one of the harsh realities of today.
Just as representatives from around the globe began to gather in Sendai, Japan, for an international disaster risk conference, authorities in Vanuatu were issuing evacuation alerts with Cyclone Pam intent on a destructive path towards the Pacific island nation.
On the eve of the official opening of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, three cyclones – including the ferocious Cyclone Pam – were casting a menacing shadow over the Asia Pacific region.
It underscores a simple point. The threats posed by natural disasters are on the rise.
Three days after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake jolted Northern Pakistan, I boarded a helicopter to assist the local government in surveying the incredible destruction of homes and lives. Entire villages had been wiped out, and the area’s mountainous terrain made rescue operations all but impossible in many places. I wondered to myself how my country – or any country – could truly recover from a disaster as earth-shattering as this.
That concern turned to anxiety as I looked up to see black storm clouds form ahead. Helicopters that had been in front of us were now turning around. Surely we would turn back, too, but the pilot insisted his skills and experience would carry us through the storm. They did, and that 2005 reconstruction effort in Pakistan became a defining moment in my understanding of recovery.
Over the course of the next decade of disaster and response, I and many others working in this space, came to understand that damage and needs assessments alone are not enough to address recovery and reconstruction. Without an overall recovery strategy and the right institutions to carry it forward, a country’s post-disaster efforts are all too often ad hoc and improvised.
We realized that recovery was something to plan for before disasters strike.
Sometimes the impacts of disasters seem difficult to predict, such as when the heavy snow that set off deadly avalanches in Afghanistan this winter also damaged transmission lines, disrupting the flow of electricity imported from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and resulting in power outages in Kabul. Other times the consequences seem almost inevitable, for example the likelihood of a devastating earthquake in the Ganges Basin of India, Nepal and Bangladesh within our lifetime.
There are, however, tools and models that allow us to determine the potential impacts of a disaster before they happen, and provide decision-makers with information they can use to reduce the potential impact.
Modeled 2012 population in Guatemala at a spatial resolution of 100 m2
Inside the World Bank, the number of people passionate about using spatial data for development speaks to the relevance of spatial datasets in supporting critical decision making. In an effort to use spatial data more strategically, we recently conducted an informal poll among several Bank units and some partner institutions to find out what types of spatial data are most relevant to development professionals.
This survey found that the spatial distribution of the population was a key data layer needed by Bank staff. The results of the survey showed that that while national level data are useful, subnational detail on administrative boundaries, trade & transport infrastructure, population distribution and socio-economic data down to the city level are just as critical to the majority of respondents.
“What would it take to reduce disaster risk in your country by 50 percent by 2030?” This question was posed to a gathering of small island developing states leaders and representatives during the Understanding Risk forum in London in 2014.
At the time, it probably seemed like an overwhelming question. Around US$650 million in international financing is currently available annually to build resilience in small states. However, for many countries, reducing their disaster risk by 50 percent is an attainable goal.