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Learning from Megadisasters

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture
We recently launched our new World Bank Group publication “Learning from Megadisasters” which captures the lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE). We were reminded of the destruction caused by the earthquake, which measured a staggering 9.0 on the Richter scale, and the ensuing Tsunami.  It is hard to forget the images of toppling sea walls and how entire towns and villages were submerged or washed away.  Images of devastation, that left some 20,000 people dead or missing.

However, it also reminded us that if it were not for Japan’s long-standing, history of coping with natural risks and disasters and of continuously learning and improving its Disaster Risk Management (DRM) system, the loss of life, land and property could have been even more devastating.  As Professor Kawata pointed out during the launch event, disaster management education at school was effective in saving students' lives on March 11. What was remarkable about Japan’s preparedness and response was the concerted effort of all stakeholders – government, academia, civil society, NGOs, private sector, and the international community.  Since 2011, while continuing to address the aftermath of the GEJE, Japan has further increased its level of disaster preparedness, and invested in new infrastructure and education programs.  There is a lesson in this for all of us!

“Learning from Megadisasters” essentially captures the lessons learned from the success of Japan’s DRM system and incorporates the latest developments in putting together a comprehensive approach to DRM. It covers structural and nonstructural measures; emergency response; reconstruction planning; hazard/risk information and decision making; the economics of disaster risk, risk management, risk financing; and recovery and relocation. The book shares Japanese cutting-edge knowledge, and provides valuable guidance to other disaster-prone countries to mainstream DRM in their development policies to help weather natural disasters.

While at least 80 countries are considered especially vulnerable to natural disasters, in reality no country or region is ever without risk.  Climate change is already affecting communities across the globe, and if the world warms to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, as most scientists predict, we could face even more extreme weather events and natural disasters.  Mainstreaming DRM into all sectors of the economy is therefore a key element which should be factored in development planning.

What does it to take mainstream DRM? Essentially, mainstreaming DRM requires translating knowledge into action, capturing lessons and making them available in an easily digestible and easy-to-access manner to practitioners, policy makers, NGOs, private sector and general citizens. 

In this context it is important to reflect not only on why learning matters but that it is effective only when we make it accessible, just-in- time, and relevant. Only then it can be a key accelerator for development impact.   So, what we are doing at the WBG regarding learning? The Open Learning Campus (OLC), the new state of the art learning platform to be launched in April 2015, will provide a versatile platform for learning and connecting our clients, staff and development partners.  In addition to the existing and evolving portfolio of facilitated e-courses and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), we will also produce bite-sized modules that capture the essence of key development topics such as DRM, acknowledging the important role of peer-to-peer learning for impact on the ground, and scaling up our platform for Communities of Practices (CoP).  An important element in the new OLC will also be the continuous capturing of lessons, and looping them back into the development of new learning products – aiming to ensure we are staying current and innovative in terms of the topics covered, and products and services offered. 

Listen to a podcast interview with Abha Joshi-Ghani on this subject.

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