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How would your country recover from disaster?

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Three days after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake jolted Northern Pakistan, I boarded a helicopter to assist the local government in surveying the incredible destruction of homes and lives. Entire villages had been wiped out, and the area’s mountainous terrain made rescue operations all but impossible in many places. I wondered to myself how my country – or any country – could truly recover from a disaster as earth-shattering as this.  

That concern turned to anxiety as I looked up to see black storm clouds form ahead.  Helicopters that had been in front of us were now turning around. Surely we would turn back, too, but the pilot insisted his skills and experience would carry us through the storm. They did, and that 2005 reconstruction effort in Pakistan became a defining moment in my understanding of recovery.

Over the course of the next decade of disaster and response, I and many others working in this space, came to understand that damage and needs assessments alone are not enough to address recovery and reconstruction. Without an overall recovery strategy and the right institutions to carry it forward, a country’s post-disaster efforts are all too often ad hoc and improvised.
We realized that recovery was something to plan for before disasters strike.

Post-disaster recovery and reconstruction is an ideal place to begin the process of strengthening recovery systems, when awareness about the risks of not being ready is highest. Restoring damaged houses, hospitals, schools, and other public infrastructure to more disaster-resilient standards is one aspect of the “building back better” strategy, a term introduced during the Indian Ocean Tsunami recovery efforts in Aceh, Indonesia. 
Building back better isn’t always easy—recent studies by the World Bank indicate a costs can be between about 10 to 50 percent more than simply replacing the original structures. But in the long run, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs, both in terms of economic losses and lives saved. 
The World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), in partnership with the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme, has developed a new set of knowledge products in response to growing demand from countries for advice on resilient disaster recovery. They will be launched at a Public Forum session on Saturday, March 14, during the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.
The Disaster Recovery Framework Guide draws from case studies of post-disaster recovery efforts in Philippines, Mozambique, Haiti, Pakistan and other countries to provide a roadmap for governments and their partners to achieve effective and efficient post-disaster recovery through improved institutions, policies, financing and legislation.  It serves as a complement to an updated Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Guide, which further distills more than 30 years of analyses on economic and social impacts from natural disasters. These guides help governments go from identifying emergency needs to understanding the broad-picture effects of a major event.
GFDRR’s new knowledge products are an important contribution to our understanding of what it takes to achieve resilient recovery in disaster-stricken communities. I still often wonder if countries hit by disaster can ever manage a full recovery. And while the difference today is that countries do have a clearer understanding of how successful recoveries can come about, there is still much to be done to share lessons and plan for recovery so that communities and countries build a safer, more resilient future. 

Photo: Damage from the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. AusAID photo


Raja Rehan Arshad

Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist

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