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Ideas Box: the library that promotes literacy and builds disaster resilience—a Q&A

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture


Over the last two weeks, we’ve witnessed three hurricanes in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico as well as a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in Mexico, killing people and destroying homes. They serve as a reminder that natural hazards pose a greater threat to our lives and livelihoods than we may think.

Dealing with rising disaster risks requires greater efforts with smarter approaches—ones that can help vulnerable people and communities better prepare for, and recover from, disasters. Libraries Without Borders (BSF), an international organization that expands access to information, education, and cultural resources to vulnerable people around the world, knows that very well.

In 2010, BSF was building libraries in Haiti when the well-known earthquake struck. At the time, local partners asked BSF to help them create information and cultural access points in refugee camps. This experience led to the development of the “Ideas Box," an innovative tool that provides vulnerable communities in disaster-prone areas with access to information, education, and cultural resources.

Last week, on the International Literacy Day, I talked to BSF’s Director of Communications and Advocacy, Katherine Trujillo, about the Ideas Box, as well as how their innovative ideas and actions have helped promote literacy and build resilience in disaster-hit communities.

To build resilient cities, we must treat substandard housing as a life-or-death emergency

Luis Triveno's picture
Also available in: Español | 中文

Resilient housing policies. © World Bank
Why resilient cities need resilient housing.  Download the full version of the slideshow here

The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths. 

But if governments could apply triage to substandard housing, medical triage would be a much less frequent occurrence – because in the developing world, it is mainly housing that kills people, not disasters.
 
From the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to the 2017 Urban Resilience Summit, practitioners and policymakers have increasingly focused their discussions on how we can boost the resilience of urban areas.

But this is a problem with a well-known solution: Resilient cities require resilient housing.

To make housing more resilient, cities need to focus on two different but complementary angles: upgrading the existing housing stock, where most the poor live, while making sure that new construction is built safe, particularly for natural disasters. After all, if floods or earthquakes do not distinguish between old and new homes, why should policymakers? It is time for resilience to become part of the definition of “decent, affordable, and safe housing.”

 

Three countries show why culture matters for post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction and recovery

Sameh Wahba's picture
In Mali, residents of Timbuktu take part in the maintenance of the Djingareyber Mosque, a World Heritage Site, applying traditional repair techniques. (Tiecoura Ndaou / UN Photo)
In Mali, residents of Timbuktu take part in the maintenance of the Djingareyber Mosque, a World Heritage Site, applying traditional repair techniques. (Tiecoura Ndaou / UN Photo)

Imagine a city destroyed by a natural disaster, killing people and wiping away infrastructure. For instance, an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2010, killing over 200,000 people and displacing around 895,000.

Even worse, imagine a city demolished by a manmade disaster: conflict. Recent examples include Aleppo, Syria and Kabul, Afghanistan. Here conflict goes far beyond violence to include erasing a place’s culture, heritage, landmarks, and its traditions.

Now, imagine the enormous undertaking required to rebuild these places and the many stakeholders that need to be brought together. It would take an integrated, holistic approach to restore torn heritage, infrastructure, and service delivery systems after they have been wiped out by a natural or manmade disaster. Culture needs to underpin such a rebuilding approach.

Building more affordable and disaster-resilient housing in Latin America and the Caribbean: a few policy ideas

Julian Palma's picture
Photo by C64-92 via Flicker Creative Commons

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.

Innovating with the past: How to create resilience through heritage

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo by Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Demonstration of the firefighting system in the Ninna-ji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, by the temple staff and the R-DMUCH professors. (Photo: Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank)
Bosai (防災) means disaster risk reduction or management, and it became our word of reference. As a group of professionals from disaster risk and cultural heritage management backgrounds visiting Japan, we used it in activities, as nicknames, and shouted in unison every time a group photo was taken. It represents a lesson that Japan has learned very well. Disasters have been part of the Japanese experience since the beginning of history. The Kobe Earthquake in 1995 and the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 are just two recent examples of disasters from which Japan recovered under the motto “build back better.” On November 5 we will be marking the World Tsunami Awareness Day, and I cannot think of a better word than Bosai to capture its significance.

In an environment rife with natural disasters, Japan recognizes that climate change is a tangible reality that increases the intensity and frequency of these disasters. The country knows very well the threat they pose not only to its people, economy, or infrastructure, but also to its cultural heritage.

Intangible culture is equally important, especially helping people in the recovery process and ensuring that we learn from the past. Take for instance the example of ancient local knowledge used around the world, and ask yourself: are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?

Are we listening to our ancestors’ warnings?

Ko Takeuchi's picture
Also available in: Russian
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
The “miracle pine,” a 250-year-old tree that survived the 2011 tsunami in Japan, has been preserved as a memorial to the 19,000 victims of the disaster. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

In disaster risk management, we often pay close attention to the latest technological boosts to better understand risks and help communities prepare for the next disaster. While such efforts are commendable, I noticed that insightful messages from our ancestors can also help us better anticipate tomorrow’s disaster risks.

Such messages teach us how to keep hazards away from people (reducing existing risks) as well as how to keep people away from hazards (avoid creating new risks). On my latest trip to Japan, we hosted government officials from Armenia, Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan as part of an experts’ visit focusing on disaster risk management, acting on Japan’s rich culture of passing on such decisive messages to future generations.

"Shaken, not stirred"

Joaquin Toro's picture

Since October 29, 2015, Central Asia experienced fifteen earthquakes of moment magnitude 5.0 or greater, which on average amounts to an earthquake every 6 days.  Among these events are two notable ones that occurred on December 7th and 25th of 2015. The first earthquake was a 7.2 magnitude event in Murghob district of Tajikistan.

This was the largest earthquake in the country since the 1949 Khait earthquake and it brought widespread damage throughout the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, Tajikistan's largest province located in the Pamir mountains. Losses consisted of 2 fatalities caused by landslides,  multiple injuries, complete or partial destruction of over 650 houses and 15 schools and kindergartens, damages to several health centers and a small hydroelectric power station, and loss of livestock. Estimates suggest that 4,000 people have been displaced and over 124,000 were affected by the earthquake, leaving many people homeless over the harsh winter period.

Nepal post-earthquake response: It’s time to roll up our sleeves

Marc Forni's picture
Nepal Earthquake Reconstruction
Relief workers in the town of Sankhu in the Kathmandu Valley, June 2015. Credit: Yann Doignon / World Bank

It has been exactly three months since the Nepal earthquake first struck and one month since the donor conference. The humanitarian phase is nearing its end, the international presence is starting to move onto the next crisis, and high level international dignitaries have now returned to their capitals. The earthquake is no longer making headline news and the government is getting back to business as usual, albeit with the huge challenge of rebuilding.
 
Now is time to take stock of the events from the past three months. During a crisis, there is no time for those involved to look back at what has been accomplished. What matters is the next immediate action and challenge to overcome.  Last week, in the Bank headquarters, our management and some members of the earthquake response team presented the progress achieved thus far to an overcrowded room. This was my first opportunity to reflect on the disaster and I was almost overcome with emotion. Be they senior government officials, the Bank’s country office team, first- emergency responders, or Nepalis, it is difficult to articulate just what folks have overcome in Nepal.

​Air transportation – the critical infrastructure when disaster strikes

Charles E. Schlumberger's picture
Relief supplies being unloaded from a New Zealand C-130 at the airport in
Tuvalu after Cyclone Pam struck some outer islands. Photo: Nora Weisskopf

When disaster strikes, air transport is often the only feasible mode of transportation for first responders and urgently needed relief supplies. Following an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, most roads, rail tracks and even ports become unusable, as they are blocked for days by debris. Airports, on the other hand, are remarkably sustainable and, within hours, usually become operational again.  

Kathmandu Airport: Already crowded
before the earthquake. 
​Photo: Charles Schlumberger
The main reason of this sustainability is that runways are on open space where debris of a disaster can be removed quickly. Furthermore, a runway usually suffers remarkable little damage even by a strong earthquake, such as experienced last week in Nepal or in Haiti in 2010. And even if there are cracks and holes in the runway, modern relief aircraft like C-130s can operate safely for some time.
 
However, the challenges of operating relief flights can quickly become overwhelming, especially for airports in developing countries that usually experience only moderate traffic. In Haiti, for example, more than 74 aircraft landed on a single day following the earthquake to unload supplies. Such traffic poses risks in the air; air traffic control, often hampered by inadequate or damaged surveillance installations, can’t cope managing all arriving aircraft. On the ground, where tarmac and taxiways are small, congestion quickly reigns which prevents the arrival of more flights.

What does a world champion boxer have to do with saving lives in a disaster?

Yann Kerblat's picture
For Project NOAH, flood hazard maps are more “punchy” and effective when they are accessible and easy to read. Shown above is a flood map of the city of Manila during typhoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) in 2009.

World Champion boxer Manny Pacquiao is a living icon in the Philippines, his legendary battles are well known and brought him considerable fame. This fame and recognition is being used by the Philippine government (through Project NOAH) to save lives and minimize losses from disasters—where an infographic gradient links flood depth to Pacquiao’s famous height. In other words, to encourage adoption of early warning advisories and make flood hazard projections more interesting, yellow colors on interactive flood hazard maps equate to flood levels up to Pacquiao’s knees, while a dangerous, bright red color corresponds to high flood levels that are taller than Pacquiao himself.


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