Disaster Risk Reduction
On a visit this week to the Japanese coastal area of Yuriage, Teerayut Horanont peered through glasses at the quiet landscape that gives way to the Pacific Ocean. He didn’t just see the landscape – he saw the town that once thrived there.
An augmented reality tool installed in the glasses provided a visual overlay of what the area looked like before the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that devastated Yuriage and many other coastal communities in Japan.
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.
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.
The first people to arrive at the scene of any natural disaster are almost always members of the affected community. Yet in most cases, disaster response and recovery mechanisms are built from the top down, with tools and processes built by and for government and other institutional actors.
Code for Resilience — a global initiative managed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) — focuses on strengthening community resilience to natural disasters and is helping bridge this divide by connecting disaster risk management experts with local technology communities.
To share their experiences, a number of Code for Resilience participants from across Asia will gather at the Asia Resilience Forum 2015, organized as part of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction and Recovery’s Public Forum March 14-15, 2015, in Sendai, Japan. They will discuss how they are engaging with disaster risk management authorities and developing community-led technology solutions to address local challenges in countries including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, and Vietnam.
Advances in technology — including rising communications access, falling hardware costs, and a growing movement toward open data, open source, and open innovation — have created a new opportunity to engage local communities in creating a feedback loop that informs data about disaster preparedness, response and recovery.
Without concerted action, the world will one day see a megadisaster—a disaster resulting in over 1 million casualties.
The forces of population growth and rapid urbanization are dramatically increasing exposure to disaster risk. Over 600 million people, for example, live in the Ganges Basin of India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Due to the meeting of the tectonic plates with the Indian subcontinent shifting under the Eurasian continent, this area is at a large risk of seismic activity. And indeed, the Ganges Basin has seen earthquakes over magnitude 7.0 in the past 500 years, as illustrated by the graphic above.
As practitioners, we can help reduce disaster risk and build resilience to potential catastrophes through smart development practices. These practices, however, require targeted research that can inform which levers to move, and how to move them. Sadly, this kind of research is difficult to come by in the disaster risk management community, and harder still to communicate to those that need it most.
By Francis Ghesquiere, Head of the GFDRR Secretariat, & Robert Reid, DRM Specialist, GFDRR
The approval of a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015 will mark the beginning of a new era for the disaster risk management (DRM) community. The UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will set new international DRM standards, targets, and priorities for the next 20 years. It is our hope that the international DRM community seizes this opportunity to build upon the strengths of the first HFA to make the next edition even more actionable.
We’re pleased to see that the proposed goal of the HFA2 zero draft recognizes the need to prevent the creation of new risks. This is the only realistic way to gradually tame the continuous increase in disaster loss observed in recent decades. This is particularly true in developing countries where we will see billions of dollars invested in expanding cities, in new schools and new homes. To avoid putting people at risk, we must first make sure that this infrastructure is built in the right places and using resilient standards.
It was only three years ago that a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit Japan. I still remember vividly the horror of watching in disbelief as live television footage captured the tsunami rapidly moving inland. I was living abroad at the time, and tried frantically to get through to my family in Tokyo, not knowing the extent of the damage there.
“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.
Losses due to disasters to human and physical capital are on the rise across the world. Over the past 30 years, total losses have tripled, amounting to $3.5 trillion. While the majority of these losses were experienced in OECD countries, the trend is increasingly moving towards losses in rapidly growing states.
In a sense, increasing risk and losses caused by disaster are the byproduct of a positive trend - strong development gains and economic growth. This is because disaster loss is a function of the amount of human and physical assets exposed to seismic or hydrometeorological hazards, and the level of vulnerability of the assets. The richer a country gets, the more assets it builds or acquires, and therefore the more losses it potentially faces.
Rapid development across South Asia signals the need to commit greater efforts to increase resilience to disaster and climate risk. It also requires governments to develop a strategy to both protect against events today and to develop strategies to address the losses of the future. This is a challenge somewhat unique to South Asia. The losses of today, predominantly rural flooding that impacts wide swaths of vulnerable populations, will begin to diminish in relative importance to the losses of the future.