The link between poverty and disasters is becoming clearer – new research shows that extreme weather events alone are pushing up to 26 million people into poverty every year. With forces like climate change, urban expansion, and population growth driving this trend, annual losses have passed more than $500 billion annually, and show no signs of slowing.
With limited time and resources, however, adequate preparedness for these common events is often neglected in developing countries. The result is a pattern of deficient recovery that is imperiling sustainable development, and leaving millions of the most vulnerable behind.
How many school children can be endangered by the schools themselves? The answer was over 600,000 in metropolitan Lima alone.
In the region, fraught with frequent seismic activity, nearly two-thirds of schools were highly vulnerable to damage by earthquakes. Working with the Peruvian Ministry of Education (MINEDU), the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) conducted a risk assessment that ultimately helped make an estimated 2.5 million children safer and paved the way for a $3.1 billion national risk-reduction strategy.
Whether it is building safer schools or deploying early warning systems, disaster risk management is an integral part of caring for our most vulnerable, combating poverty, and protecting development gains.
Today, we celebrate the annual World Red Cross and Red Crescent Day. To reduce the impacts of disasters on the poorest and most vulnerable, and build their resilience, it is essential that we collaborate and innovate to bring solutions to the community level. Close coordination with the humanitarian sector is therefore more important than ever before.
Between 2010 and 2017, Chile was struck by 10 major natural hazard events. These disasters affected as many as 340,583 houses and cost $3.6 billion in reconstruction (Ministry of Housing and Urbanism of Chile). Post-disaster assessments point to housing as one of the most affected sectors in the wake of climate-related and other natural hazards—most commonly floods, earthquakes, landslides, and fires. In a 22-year period between 1990 and 2011, minimum losses in the housing sector for 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) amounted to $53 billion.
In the LAC region, one quarter of the population lives in slums, characterized by the prevalence of substandard housing quality as well as incremental and self-construction of homes. Families living in these informal settlements are at greatest risk to natural hazard impacts. Programs providing new housing do not always reach families in the lowest quintiles; and without access to affordable and well-located housing alternatives, households have no other option than to build informally, and in areas most prone to natural disasters.
Few things are more depressing than seeing the damage caused by cyclones on transport infrastructure. Especially when it is a causeway that was only formally opened less than one month before the storm. That is what I found in early 2014 when participating in the Tonga Cyclone Ian Post Disaster Needs Assessment. The cyclone was a typical example of the heavy toll that climate change is taking on transport infrastructure, particularly in the most vulnerable countries.
Engineers are taught that water is the greatest enemy of transport infrastructure, and unfortunately climate change is leading to an increase in floods and storms, especially within the South-East Asia region. For example, the figure below shows the number of floods and storms for some Asian countries between 2000 and 2008. The significant increase in the number of floods is self-evident.
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.
Over half of the 12 million people living in Somalia are acutely food insecure. This adds to the development challenge for Somalia after more than two decades of civil war and political instability. In particular, the urgent need for humanitarian assistance bears the risk of fostering aid dependency. To embark on a sustainable pathway toward development instead, intervention should rely on markets (whenever possible), and react dynamically to changes in market equilibria.
Social safety nets – predictable cash grants to poor households often in exchange for children going to school or going for regular health check-ups – have become one of the most effective poverty reduction strategies, helping the poor and vulnerable cope with crises and shocks. Each year, safety net programs in developing countries lift an estimated 69 million people living in absolute poverty and uplifting some 97 million people from the bottom 20 percent – a substantial contribution in the global fight against poverty.
In 2015, severe floods washed away a series of bridges in Mozambique’s Nampula province, leaving several small villages completely isolated. Breslau, a local engineer and one of our counterparts, knew that rebuilding those bridges would take months. Breslau took his motorbike and drove the length of the river to look for other roads, trails, or paths to help the villagers avoid months of isolation. He eventually found an old earth path that was quickly cleaned up and restored… After a few days, the villagers had an alternative to the destroyed bridge, reconnecting them to the rest of the network and the country.
What happened in the Nampula province perfectly illustrates how a single weather event can quickly paralyze transport connections, bringing communities and economies to a screeching halt. There are many more examples of this phenomenon, which affects both developing and developed countries. On March 30th, a section of the I-85 interstate collapsed in Atlanta, causing schools to close and forcing many people to work from home. In Peru, food prices increase in Lima when the carretera central is disrupted by landslides because agricultural products can’t be brought to market.
How can we help countries improve the resilience of their transport networks in a context of scarce resources and rising climate uncertainty?
Over the past three decades, China’s unprecedented pace of urbanization has allowed more than 260 million migrants to move from agriculture to more productive activities. This has helped 500 million people escape poverty and for China to grow at an average 10 percent a year for three consecutive decades. At the same time, between 2000 and 2014, weather-related disasters caused more than RMB 4.645 trillion ($749 billion) in damages.
There is strong evidence that climate change is altering the profile of hazards. The observed frequency and severity of extremely heavy rain storms since the 1950s in China have significantly increased and future climate scenarios suggest that interannual variability in rainfall may increase further, aggravating the risk of flooding and as well as severe lack of water.
Over the past two decades, the city of Lishui in Zhejiang Province of China suffered from devastating floods, landslides, as well as heat waves. Today, the over 2 million people of Lishui have a lot to be proud of. Their city is recognized as China’s “top ecological, picturesque paradise for healthy life and home of longevity”. This is the result of close attention from city and provincial officials in understanding the root causes of the problems caused by the changing climate. This has been followed by inclusive planning, design and implementation of technically sound projects that are in harmony with the rivers flowing through the city in concert with the surrounding hilly terrain’s natural and city-wide storm water drainage systems.