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disaster prevention

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).

Building a more resilient Afghanistan

Ditte Fallesen's picture
Helping Afghanistan Become More Resilient to Natural Disasters


This blog is part of a series highlighting the work of the Afghanistan Disaster Risk Management and Resilience Program

During the almost 4 years I spent in the World Bank office in Kabul, I experienced frequent earthquake tremors and saw the results of the significant reduction in winter snow, which severely impacts the water available for agriculture during spring and summer.
 
While limited in scope, my first-hand experience with natural disasters adds to the long list of recurring hazards afflicting Afghanistan. This list is unfortunately long and its impact destructive.
 
Flooding, historically the most frequent natural hazard, has caused an average $54 million in annual damages. Earthquakes have produced the most fatalities with 12,000 people killed since 1980, and droughts have affected at least 6.5 million people since 2000.

Climate change will only increase these risks and hazards may become more frequent and natural resources more scarce. Compounded with high levels of poverty and inadequate infrastructure, the Afghan population will likely become more vulnerable to disasters.

Risk information is critical to inform development planning, public policy and investments and over time strengthen the resilience of new and existing infrastructure to help save lives and livelihoods in Afghanistan.

Minimizing the risks caused by geohazards in South Asia

Yuka Makino's picture
 A man watches a piece of land fall into a river September 22, 2014 in the Kalashuna village in Gaibandha district of Bangladesh. In the past month Kalashuna village has had 600 homes washed away due to river erosion. In August severe flooding displaced hundreds of thousands of people and led to rapid and severe river erosion which continues to wipe away hundreds of homes each week.
A man watches a piece of land fall into a river September 22, 2014 in the Kalashuna village in Gaibandha district of Bangladesh. Credit: Allison Joyce. 2014 Getty Images
Geological hazards – or geohazards, natural or human-induced disruptions of the earth surface that may trigger landslides, sinkholes, or earthquakes, present serious threats to communities, cost extensive damage to infrastructure and can bring traffic and services to a standstill.
 
Most geohazards are linked to climate activity such as rainfall and thawing of ice or snow. In many places, recent climatic changes have increased the intensity of rainfall and raised mean temperature, increasing hydrological hazards, such as debris or earth flows, erosion, and floods.
 
South Asia is particularly vulnerable to geohazards. A study completed in 2012 found that from 1970 to 2000, the number of geohazards quadrupled in the region, resulting in damages of over $25 billion in 2008-2012 alone.
 
This week, the World Bank Group and its partners will gather at a first-of-its-kind South-to-South learning workshop to devise practical solutions to help South Asia become more resilient to landslide and geo-hazard risks.
 

 

Using technology to stay ahead of disaster risk

John Roome's picture
Hurricane Patricia. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory

We’re witnessing an unprecedented uptick in record-breaking storms. In October last year, Hurricane Patricia came ashore in Mexico with record breaking 200 miles per hour winds. A few months later on the other side of the world, Cyclone Winston broke records for Pacific basin wind speeds, destroying parts of mainland Fiji with 180 miles per hour winds. More recently, Cyclone Fantala became the most powerful storm in the Indian Ocean ever recorded.
 
Experts agree that its activities by people which are increasing the severity of storms like these. Climate change isn’t just projected to increase the intensity of hurricanes and cyclones, but a whole other range of other natural hazards, like droughts, floods, storms, and heat waves.

How can we help countries share their own development knowledge? Insights from Japan

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
To help clients achieve their development objectives, the World Bank has established knowledge-sharing "hubs" in countries that have gained valuable experience from dealing with their own challenges. That is the rationale behind the creation of a Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Hub and Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) in Japan, a country that has developed unparalleled expertise in disaster resilience, quality infrastructure, and sustainable urban development. In this video, Keiko Sakoda Kaneda (DRM Hub) and Daniel Levine (TDLC) elaborate on some of the key elements of their work program, and explain how they collaborate with development partners from around the world.

What El Niño teaches us about climate resilience

Francis Ghesquiere's picture
It was recorded by the Spanish conquistadors, and triggered famines that have been linked to China’s 1901 Boxer Rebellion and even the French revolution.

Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.

The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.

And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.

But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.

Remembering Bhopal 30 Years Later

Adriana Jordanova Damianova's picture
Children stand near the dilapidated premises of Union Carbide in Bhopal, India. (Photo via Bhopal Medical Appeal / Flickr CC)Thirty years ago, toxic gas leaking from Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal claimed more than 5,000 lives and exposed more than half a million people to harmful toxins.  The negligence and human tragedy made Bhopal synonymous with industrial disaster and showed just how harmful chemical pollution is to health and well-being. The enormous human loss calls for remembering the victims and stronger engagement on a wide range of pollution management and environmental health issues to prevent similar tragedies.

What Happened Then?
A chemical gas spilled from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide. More than 40 tons of gas created a dense cloud over more than half a million people and killed thousands.  None of the six safety systems at the plant worked to prevent the disaster. The company’s own documents prove the plant was designed with “untested” technology, and that it cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.

The State of Bhopal Today
Today, clean-up of the site is still pending, those who survived the disaster don’t have alternate livelihood opportunities and victims are still suffering.
 

Becoming a “Forest Savior”: Community Participation for Conservation

Faria Selim's picture

 Mahfuzul Hasan Bhuiyan/World Bank“The forest is an integral part of my life and only source of income. We exploited it until we saw people killed in landslides in the neighboring areas. Gradually we became aware of the consequences of unplanned felling of trees. Now we protect our forest alongside the Forest Department. I own two hectares of forest land and they pay for its maintenance. I have earned a good amount after the first felling,” says a proud Sabbir, participant from a social forestry initiative of the Government of Bangladesh, Ukhiarghat, Cox’s Bazar.  
 
The Government of Bangladesh initiated the Social Forestry programs with a view to meet the forest product requirements of the local population, reverse the process of ecological and climatic degradation through proper soil and water conservation, and also to improve the socioeconomic condition of the rural people.
 
Forests are the primary buffer against cyclones, storms and surges for over 16 million people living in the vulnerable coastal zone of Bangladesh. Over the last three decades, forests in Bangladesh have declined by 2.1% annually, accumulating to almost half of all forest cover, due to deforestation, illegal logging and harvesting, slash-and-burn agriculture, conversion into non-forestland for settlement, farming, recreation and industries. With the likely increased incidence and intensity of extreme cyclonic events, efforts must focus on reversing the decline in forests in order to adequately safeguard people against threats induced by climate change.

Crying wolf? Contagion is a real threat!

Patricio V. Marquez's picture

If you accept my 5 cents of wisdom, you should rush to see the new movie “Contagion.” It is a well done, spooky public health mystery, with great acting. Why you may ask? Simply because it is a timely reminder about the public health risks but also the potential benefits of a globalized world.

Watching the movie brought back vivid memories of passionate discussions we had in the fall of 2005 when we—a Europe and Central Asia and East Asia and the Pacific agriculture and public health team—prepared in a few days what became the $500 million Global Program for Avian Influenza and Human Pandemic Preparedness and Response.