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natural disasters

Let’s build the infrastructure that no hurricane can erase

Luis Triveno's picture
Hati after Hurrican Matthew
Hurricane Matthew destroyed an estimated 90% of homes in Haiti's Grande Anse department. Stronger public knowledge infrastructure can help better facilitate post-disaster recovery.
(Photo: EU Delegation to the Republic of Haiti)
The news from Haiti about the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew is a familiar story: more chaos, rubble, and loss of life from another natural disaster. Though recent improvements to Haiti’s infrastructure at the local level kept the death toll at 534—3,000 died in the 2004 hurricane; more than 200,000 in the 2010 earthquake—the number is still way too high.
 
Worldwide, natural disasters claimed 1.3 million lives between 1992 and 2012, with earthquakes accounting for 60%of disaster deaths in low- and middle-income countries, where the preponderance of sub-standard housing increases the risks. Today, 1.2 billion people live in substandard housing. By 2030, this figure will almost triple.
 
The good news is that most of those deaths and property losses can be prevented. In 2003, for example, within three days of each other, earthquakes of similar magnitude struck Paso Robles, California and Bam, Iran. The death toll in Bam was 40,000—nearly half the city’s population. Two people died in Paso Robles.
 
Even when destruction does take place, proper planning and measures can ensure a speedy recovery.

Data responsibility: a new social good for the information age

Stefaan Verhulst's picture

As climate change intensifies, catastrophic, record-setting natural disasters look increasingly like the “new normal” – from Hurricane Matthew killing at least 1,300 people in September to Typhoon Lionrock, the previous month, causing flooding that left 138 dead and more than 100,000 homeless in North Korea.

What steps can we take to limit the destruction caused by natural disasters? One possible answer is using data to improve relief operations.

Let’s look at the aftermath of the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake, the worst to hit Nepal in over 80 years. Nearly 9,000 people were killed, some 22,000 injured, hundreds of thousands were rendered homeless and entire villages were flattened.

Yet for all the destruction, the toll could have been far worse.

Without in any way minimising the horrible disaster that hit Nepal that day, I want to make the case that data — and, in particular, a new type of social responsibility — helped Nepal avoid a worse calamity. It may offer lessons for other disasters around the world.

In the wake of the Nepal disaster, a wide variety of actors – from government, civil society and the private sector alike – rushed in to address the humanitarian crisis. One notable player was Ncell, Nepal’s largest mobile network operator. Shortly after the earthquake, Ncell decided to share its mobile data (in an aggregated, de-identified way) with the the non-profit Swedish organisation, Flowminder.
 

Investing to make our cities more resilient to disasters and climate change

Joe Leitmann's picture

Urbanization comes at a price, especially in an era of climate change and increased risk of natural disasters.

Presently, the average annual loss from natural disasters in cities is estimated by the UN at over $250 billion. If cities fail to build their resilience to disasters, shocks, and ongoing stresses, this figure will rise to $314 billion by 2030, and 77 million more city dwellers will fall into poverty, according to a new World Bank/GFDRR report presented at COP22.

The good news is that we have a window of opportunity to make cities and the urban poor more resilient. Over 60% of the land projected to become urban by 2030 is yet to be developed. Additionally, cities will need to build nearly one billion new housing units by 2060 to house a growing urban population. Building climate-smart, disaster-resilient cities and housing is thus an immediate priority, especially in the developing world. 

To seize that opportunity, countries will need significant financing for infrastructure—over $4 trillion annually—and making this infrastructure low carbon and climate resilient will cost an additional $0.4 to $1.1 trillion, according to a CCFLA report.

Mobilizing private capital is the best bet for helping to close this financing gap.

On the road to resilience: Reducing disaster and climate risk in Africa

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
As 60 million people in Africa await humanitarian assistance due to the worst El Nino in decades, the World Bank is actively engaged in 14 countries to plan recovery programs worth more than $500 million. (Photo: Flore de Preneuf / World Bank)


Natural disasters—such as droughts, floods, landslides, and storms—are a regular occurrence, but climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of such weather-related hazards. Since 1970, Africa has experienced more than 2,000 natural disasters, with just under half taking place in the last decade. During this time, natural disasters have affected over 460 million people and resulted in more than 880,000 casualties. In addition, it is estimated that by 2030, up to 118 million extremely poor people (living below $1.25/day) will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat in Africa. In areas of recurrent disasters, this hampers growth and makes it harder for the poor to escape poverty.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

A Lesson from Latin America: Media Reform Needs People Power
CIMA

Policy reform in favor of more plural and independent media is possible when global networks collaborate with national activists. This is the important lesson gleaned from a series of examples in Latin America that are the subject of a new book that I co-authored with Maria Soledad Segura titled Media Movements: Civil Society and Policy Reform in Latin America (Zed/U of Chicago Press). Washington, DC, is home to many global actors committed to supporting freedom of information, fighting oppressive libel laws and promoting plural media ownership—among other key elements to a vibrant and free media. The key lesson for them is that they are unlikely to succeed alone. In fact, we did not find any examples of rapid and sustainable changes single-handedly driven by global programs. Instead, we found success stories where global actors worked patiently and diligently with local activities, building awareness and strong coalitions on the ground that could act when opportune conditions or political junctures arose.

Why Cities Are the Future for Farming
National Geographic

The landscape of our food future appears bleak, if not apocalyptic. Humanity’s impact on the environment has become undeniable and will continue to manifest itself in ways already familiar to us, except on a grander scale. In a warmer world, heavier floods, more intense droughts, and unpredictable, violent, and increasingly frequent storms could become a new normal. Little wonder that the theme for this year's World Food Day, which happens on Sunday, is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” The need for an agricultural sea change was also tackled at the recent South by South Lawn, President Obama’s festival of art, ideas, and action (inspired by the innovative drive of Austin’s SXSW), where I was honored to present.
 

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.

Parts of the aid system just don’t work – the dismal cycle of humanitarian response

Duncan Green's picture

Every now and then an email stops me in my tracks, reminding me that Oxfam is stuffed full of bright, motivated, altruistic people. Here’s one I got a few weeks ago from Debbie Hillier, one of our Humanitarian Policy Advisers, in response to my request for thoughts on the state of the aid business. Her views are fleshed out in ‘A Preventable Crisis’, a new report published this week:
 

"Hi Duncan,

Here is a current example of how the aid system doesn’t work.

El Niño events and other droughts are forecast months in advance.  There is of course some uncertainty in the forecasts, but nonetheless, there is often a high probability of a natural hazard.  And with major droughts/El Niño/La Niña, these can affect many millions of people.

So there are situations of high probability and high impact – like the current El Niño.  And these are situations where we know what the solutions are. There are far fewer complicating political factors than in conflict – we know what to do.

If this was the private sector, there would be a significant response at this point. However the aid system does not work like this.

ThinkHazard! – A new, simple platform for understanding and acting on disaster risk

Alanna Simpson's picture
ThinkHazard! platform


Too many times after a natural hazard strikes, public outcries follow once the level of devastation becomes clear. People wonder – and often rightly so – if the disaster could have been prevented.  After the 2015 Nepal earthquake for example, years of investment in school buildings was wiped away in seconds because schools were not built to withstand earthquakes – often because people were not aware of the earthquake risk. Fortunately, it was a Saturday so the schools that collapsed did not also result in unimaginable human tragedy.  

How can small island states become more resilient to natural disasters and climate risk?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Small Island States are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and natural disasters. In fact, 2/3 of the countries that have been most severely impacted by disasters are small island nations, which have lost between 1 and 9% of GDP annually due to weather extremes and other catastrophes. The severity and recurrence of disasters makes it hard for those countries to recover, and seriously undermines ongoing development efforts.
 
The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) are actively working with small island states to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and climate risk, including through their joint Small Island States Resilience Initiative. World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez and GFDRR's Sofia Bettencourt tell us more.

Building safer cities for a volatile climate

John Roome's picture
Photo credit: Diego Charlón Sánche


Just consider some statistics. It’s estimated some one point four million people move to cities every week. And by 2050, we will add nearly 2.5 billion people to the planet, with 90 percent of the urban growth in that time taking place in developing countries.

Yet living in cities can be risky business. Many large cities are coastal, in deltas or on rivers and at risk from of flooding from powerful storms or rising sea levels. Globally 80 percent of the world’s largest cities are vulnerable to severe earthquakes and 60 percent are at risk from tsunamis and storm surges.


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