Published on Voices

As climate and disaster threats rise, let’s double down on resilient infrastructure

???????????????: Quang Vu/Shutterstock A primary school in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo: Quang Vu/Shutterstock

From tsunamis in Asia and earthquakes in Latin America, to hurricanes in the Caribbean and cyclones in Africa, disasters caused by natural hazards claimed some 1.3 million lives between 1998 and 2017, and wreaked untold havoc on livelihoods and infrastructure worldwide.

We see no sign of the risk posed by natural hazards decreasing, particularly having witnessed the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai on families and communities in Africa earlier this year. What’s worse, climate change is making storms, floods, droughts, and heatwaves even more frequent, damaging, and deadly.

Disasters can erase decades of hard-won development gains in a matter of seconds, with a painful and costly impact that can last for years, and even generations to come. Today, around 90% of urban expansion in developing countries takes place near hazard-prone areas.  Without urgent action, climate change and disasters may cost cities worldwide $314 billion each year and push up to 77 million urban residents into poverty.

When disaster strikes, we are all at risk; but it is usually the poor that get hit the hardest.  Research shows that the impacts of disasters and climate change are more than twice as significant for poor households, because they tend to live in the most vulnerable areas, often with weak housing standards. Over the next 15 years, and in the absence of adequate investment in housing and slum upgrading, we can expect to see the number of people living in substandard housing more than double.

In an era of worsening climate and disaster risks, countries and cities have no choice but to plan better and invest more in resilient infrastructure – homes, schools, and roads – to meet urbanization challenges and sustain economic growth.

In fact, it pays to make our homes safer and our schools more resilient.  Recent research suggests that investing in resilient infrastructure can provide a net benefit of $4.2 trillion in low and middle-income countries, with $4 in benefit for each $1 invested. Such investments can then improve essential services – such as transport, or water and electricity supply – and contribute to more resilient and prosperous societies.

Resilient infrastructure saves lives. In October 2019, the World Bank’s Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS) launched its Global Library of School Infrastructure (GLOSI) and the updated Roadmap for Safer and Resilient Schools with the support of the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR). These tools will help policymakers and school communities better understand and prepare for the natural hazards that put them at risk.

Just like families living in unsafe homes, children and youth studying in poor quality school buildings are also vulnerable to climate and disaster impact.   Disasters damage or destroy school infrastructure, harming or even killing students, teachers, and other members of the school community. In Ecuador, for example, the 2016 earthquake damaged almost 1,000 schools and left more than 120,000 children temporarily without education. In Mozambique, 4,000 classrooms were destroyed by cyclones this past year. These disasters also have a devastating effect on children’s education and learning environments.

That’s why the World Bank and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) are both committed to helping cities and communities mobilize global resources and take local actions to build climate-smart, disaster-resilient infrastructure.

Cities can only be as resilient as their infrastructure, which is why UNDRR, together with the Government of India co-developed the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. Launched by Prime Minister Modi at the UN Climate Action Summit in September, CDRI will support countries to risk-proof investment plans by providing technical input, exchanging best practice, and capacity building.  

UNDRR is also committed to leading action in this area through the Making Cities Resilient Campaign, which more than 4,200 cities have joined over the past 10 years. In consultation with partners, and in response to a clear request from the cities with which the campaign has worked, a new campaign will launch in 2020, supporting cities to reduce disaster and climate risk through improved technical support and enhanced capacity for raising finances to implement change.

Similarly, as the World Bank continues to build back better to reduce annual disaster-related losses, its Global Program for Resilient Housing is stepping up efforts to help countries, cities, and communities build better before the next disaster by making homes safer and more resilient to natural hazards. For example:

  • In Guatemala, a rapid, low-cost, and AI-enabled assessment approach – combining drones and car-mounted camera imagery – helped identify and map a significant share of the buildings at risk of collapse in an earthquake. In Saint Lucia, the same approach was used to assess rooftop damage risks from a Category-5 hurricane.
  • In Indonesia, the government is making resilience a central part of their home improvement subsidy program, one of the largest in the world.
  • In Mexico, the authorities are upgrading their housing programs to make them more inclusive and resilient.
  • In Peru, automated property valuations and vulnerability assessments have been conducted to support municipalities.

Investing in safe and resilient infrastructure – including homes and schools – saves lives, protects livelihoods, and safeguards development.  As we just marked International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction and World Cities Day last month, let’s double down on our resolve and scale up our action to make the future of our cities and communities more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable for all.


Sameh Wahba

Regional Director, Sustainable Development, Europe and Central Asia, The World Bank

Mami Mizutori

Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction

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