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Building resilience is vital for a sustainable COVID-19 recovery

A man in an orange shirt and hard hat holding a bullhorn on a hill overlooking a city. A man in an orange shirt and hard hat holding a bullhorn on a hill overlooking a city.

COVID-19 has been a major set-back for the global economy with more than 100 million people pushed into extreme poverty, measured by living on less than $1.90 per day, during 2020 alone.

Global economic growth has bottomed out from the covid-induced trough of -3.4% in 2020 but is projected to slow again from 5.5% in 2021 to 4.1% this year. At the same time, we see evidence of a two-speed recovery where high-income countries may recover steadily, while low-income countries may lag, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Already in 2022, floods in Brazil and Madagascar and the Tonga volcano have underscored the risks that natural disasters pose to development. The global health and economic crisis wrought by COVID-19 has been compounded by floods, storms and heatwaves that can tip poor households into lasting poverty traps.  We estimate that up to 130 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2030 due to climate impacts. Unless we act, these compound risks could undermine global efforts to eliminate poverty. 

To ensure a strong and durable recovery for all, it will be essential to properly manage inflationary pressures while addressing debt challenges, but also to embed climate adaptation measures into economic recovery packages.

At the World Bank Group, we stepped up our financing to support a sustainable recovery from COVID-19. From April 2020 to June 2021, we deployed the largest crisis response in our history: more than $157 billion including over $50 billion in International Development Association (IDA) financing, our fund for the world’s poorest countries, on grant and highly concessional terms.

We have adopted the green, resilient, and inclusive development (GRID) approach, endorsed by the World Bank’s Board of Governors, to support countries to move beyond the pandemic.  This involves linking short- and long-term solutions to embed adaptation and resilience in economic recovery packages.

As the largest provider of climate finance in the developing world, we now integrate climate change into all our country strategies (green). We are also helping countries strengthen disaster resilience in infrastructure, emergency response, disaster risk financing, and safety nets (resilient). In addition, we help countries plan and implement social protection measures with over $10 billion in World Bank financing reaching more than a billion people (inclusive)

But the World Bank cannot do this alone. With extreme weather events becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change, redoubling international efforts to manage disaster risks become particularly an important aspect. 

Japan has shown global leadership in elevating disaster risk management to the forefront of the development agenda and move from words to action. One such example is the recent IDA20 replenishment negotiations. Thanks notably to Japan’s leadership, crisis preparedness that englobes building resilience to natural disasters has been elevated to one of the four cross-cutting themes under IDA.

In addition, the Japan-World Bank Program on Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries has funded resilience-building activities in 97 countries.  This major program has helped countries to define priorities, build policy frameworks and conduct feasibility studies, laying the groundwork to mobilize large-scale finance for their disaster risk management investments.

In addition to finance, our longstanding partnership with Japan has shown that countries benefit greatly from connecting with technical expertise and organizational best practices.

This is exactly the role that the World Bank Tokyo Disaster Risk Management Hub, one of the key building blocks of the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), was set up to fulfill. Since 2014, the Hub has spearheaded in mainstreaming disaster risk management across World Bank-financed operations, mobilizing experts from all over the world, particularly from Japan.

Take the example of dam safety in India. The country has more than 1,000 large dams whose structural integrity during disaster events is crucial for the safety of downstream communities. Through the Hub, our task team benefited from world-class dam operations expertise of Japan Water Agency. The Agency helped define new safety procedures that will be rolled out, with World Bank financial support, across large dams nationwide.

This India dam safety example highlights the importance of strengthening the resilience of infrastructure systems. Direct costs of repairing assets like roads, power plants and water pipes in low- and middle-income countries have been estimated at $18 billion annually. But the annual costs of infrastructure disruptions amount to at least $391 billion. Averting these losses require countries to rethink how they provide transport, energy, and water services.

The challenge of making developing countries’ roads, railways, energy transmission lines, power plants, water pipes, sanitation facilities and school buildings resilient to climate change is just beginning. Japan has state-of-art engineering knowledge and public policies on many aspects of this challenge, reflecting its own history of disaster risk management. The international community is reflecting on major achievements and the way forward as the UNDRR conducts the Mid-Term Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was adopted in 2015 as a successor to the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015.

From the World Bank's side, I hope we can further expand the good collaborations which the Tokyo Disaster Risk Management Hub has helped facilitate. Such efforts will be critical to ensure a green, resilient, and inclusive recovery from the pandemic and deliver on the Sendai Framework's vision.

This article was first published in the International Development Journal of Japan in April 2022.


Juergen Voegele

Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank

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