In South Asia, disaster risk management is key to durable development

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A man checking the water level of a local river in Nepal. Photo: World Bank Group/Vladimir Tsirkunov A man checking the water level of a local river in Nepal. Photo: World Bank Group/Vladimir Tsirkunov

The recent floods in Pakistan — which have affected over 33 million people or around 15 percent of the country’s population — have been a stark and sobering reminder that climate change, far from being a distant threat looming over the world, is already here: a warmer planet is exacerbating the impact of natural hazards. In South Asia, where a changing climate means almost 2 billion people are subjected to longer and heavier monsoon seasons as well as droughts, this is already happening. 

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), a multi-donor partnership hosted by the World Bank, has known for years how important it is to adopt a more proactive approach to disaster risk management. Through the European Union – South Asia Capacity Building for Disaster Risk Management (EU-SAR DRM) Program — a €10 million partnership between the European Union and GFDRR   — countries in the region are bolstering their disaster risk management capacity and upgrading their hydrological and meteorological (hydromet) services as well as early-warning systems.

In Bhutan, for example, officials underwent training in river system modeling and geographic information visualization to enhance the country’s hazard monitoring capabilities. Effective monitoring and forecasting services are crucial in protecting populations amid increasingly extreme weather events. Research backs up the important role of these systems: according to a report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the World Bank, GFDRR, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, a $1 investment in hydromet services yields at least $3 in socioeconomic benefits — and often far more.

Program support has also come in the form of knowledge creation and exchange: an EU-SAR funded June 2022 report based on drone surveys, satellite data, and 2D flood modeling quantified the damage caused by the Melamchi River flooding that led to at least 17 casualties and severe infrastructure damage in Nepal. It aimed to assess the extent of the damage and assist government agencies in the country in implementing effective disaster risk management measures to prevent similar incidents from happening. Meanwhile, a list of recommendations for decarbonizing the cooling sector in India was prepared to support the implementation of the India Cooling Action Plan, which aims to reduce cooling demand across the country’s sectors by 20 percent to 25 percent by 2037-2038.  

There has also been an emphasis on regional cooperation. Across the region, the EU-SAR DRM Program has organized over 100 events — participated in by more than 2,700 experts — that aimed to share best practices in improving regional early warning systems and contingency planning as well as expanding cross-border data sharing. It has also paved the way for the World Bank to co-organize with WMO and the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems the South Asia Hydromet forum, an annual event that brings together a wide range of stakeholders to discuss how to boost hydromet service delivery and promote cooperation within the region.

These activities have had a multiplier effect. Since its inception in 2015, the EU-SAR DRM Program has informed the design of more than $1 billion of World Bank investments for climate resilience in South Asia. These investments have helped to deliver disaster-resilient infrastructure, promote urban and coastal flood resilience, and strengthen disaster risk management planning in the region.

The theme of the 2022 International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was celebrated on October 13, focused on increasing the availability of — and access to — multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments. This is also one of the targets of the Sendai Framework, which aims to reduce existing disaster risks and prevent the creation of new ones.

A new GFDRR report shows that the World Bank has invested $1.5 billion in hydromet modernization projects around the world in the last two decades — a reflection of how intimately linked its development agenda is to mitigating the impact of disasters, especially at a time when extreme weather events threaten to become the new normal. There can be no durable development, after all, if disasters continue to make lives and livelihoods precarious and wipe out the gains that countries have achieved. The EU-SAR DRM Program has shown that disaster risk management, including the revamping of outdated early-warning systems, has an indispensable role in ensuring that these hard-won development advances will last, especially in a region that is particularly vulnerable to climate change.




Henriette B. Mampuya

Operations Officer, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)

Anna Patricia Valerio

Consultant, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)

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