This blog is part of a series highlighting the work of the Afghanistan Disaster Risk Management and Resilience Program
During the almost 4 years I spent in the World Bank office in Kabul, I experienced frequent earthquake tremors and saw the results of the significant reduction in winter snow, which severely impacts the water available for agriculture during spring and summer.
While limited in scope, my first-hand experience with natural disasters adds to the long list of recurring hazards afflicting Afghanistan. This list is unfortunately long and its impact destructive.
Flooding, historically the most frequent natural hazard, has caused an average $54 million in annual damages. Earthquakes have produced the most fatalities with 12,000 people killed since 1980, and droughts have affected at least 6.5 million people since 2000.
Climate change will only increase these risks and hazards may become more frequent and natural resources more scarce. Compounded with high levels of poverty and inadequate infrastructure, the Afghan population will likely become more vulnerable to disasters.
Risk information is critical to inform development planning, public policy and investments and over time strengthen the resilience of new and existing infrastructure to help save lives and livelihoods in Afghanistan.
Most geohazards are linked to climate activity such as rainfall and thawing of ice or snow. In many places, recent climatic changes have increased the intensity of rainfall and raised mean temperature, increasing hydrological hazards, such as debris or earth flows, erosion, and floods.
South Asia is particularly vulnerable to geohazards. A study completed in 2012 found that from 1970 to 2000, the number of geohazards quadrupled in the region, resulting in damages of over $25 billion in 2008-2012 alone.
This week, the World Bank Group and its partners will gather at a first-of-its-kind South-to-South learning workshop to devise practical solutions to help South Asia become more resilient to landslide and geo-hazard risks.
Women are seen in their traditional role of home-makers, but might their ability to take on managerial roles in disaster risk management be underestimated?
As part of the India Disaster Risk Management team, I travelled on the “Road2Resilience” bus journey along the entire coast of India. Along with the team’s mission to provide implementation support to the six coastal disaster management projects, I also focused on women’s participation in the mitigation activities of these projects.
Women’s participation in Disaster Risk Management in India has been sporadic. However, my interactions with the community - especially women - highlighted how
During field visits, the assessment team interacted extensively with the community and local government officials. The one story that seemed to resonate consistently was the efficiency in clearing roads blocked by fallen trees and debris to make sure connectivity was restored at the earliest. Following any major disaster, such as cyclone Hudhud, restoring connectivity is amongst the most challenging and critical activities. Restoring connectivity allows for more efficient flow of much-needed emergency relief, medical supplies and helps foster early recovery. We decided to dig deeper to find out what had been done differently here.
One evening, while returning from a field visit to Srikakulam district, we posed this question to Mr. V. Ramachandra, Superintendent Engineer of Public Works Department (PWD), what had been done differently. Mr. V. Ramachandra’s face lit up and he pulled out his smart phone. He showed us a “closed group” that the PWD engineers had created on Whatsapp. For the first three days after cyclone Hudhud, there was no electricity and no mobile connectivity. As the connections were restored, the PWD closed group became functional and that acted as the main tool of communication for information sharing. For any breach of road, the Engineers shared information through the Whatsapp group with a clear location and a short explanation of the problem. The person responsible for the area responded with a message stating how long it would take to clear the block. Even requests for tools and JCBs were made on the group. This helped identify and access required resources. The action taken was narrated on the group discussion page once the problem was solved. An updated photo showing restored road connectivity was uploaded to the group.
No meetings and no discussions at the district headquarter level had to be organized. The District Magistrate joined the group and gave instruction to the department through the closed Whatsapp group. Most roads were functional within three to four days. The whole department worked to provide its services through a messaging system, without any meetings and formal orders.
Social media has become a part of our daily lives and is a very powerful tool for emergency management if used properly. Social media and pre-designed apps are effective when written reports and formal meetings are not required. It is important to learn from such experiences and institutionalize them for effective and efficient use during periods of early recovery and emergency response.
With over 600 million people living along the fault-line across the Himalayan belt, South Asia’s earthquake exposure is very high. To further compound the problem, South Asia is urbanizing at a rapid pace and a significant growth in mega-cities, secondary and tertiary cities / towns is happening in high risk seismic zones. The region has experienced three large events over the past 15 years, the Bhuj earthquake of 2001, the Sumatra earthquake of 2004 (leading to the Asian tsunami) and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. While there have been no major earthquakes these past 9 years, the region is akin to a ticking bomb for an earthquake disaster. Keeping this in mind, we mapped a region of 3000 Km radius from the center of India and analyzed earthquake events over a one-year period from May 2013 to May 2014. Only those earthquakes recorded by the United States Geological Survey’s global earthquake monitoring database (USGS) greater than 4.0 magnitude on the Richter scale were considered. We found a total of 1,247 recorded earthquake events. The story of a 1000 earthquakes was born and was a story that needed to be told.
We decided to create a video that would become an awareness tool and effectively communicate the risk the region faces. We deliberately steered away from talking about work being undertaken to reduce seismic risks or policy mechanisms that can be adopted. There are other mechanisms, mediums and opportunities to take that agenda forward. This is a short 90 seconds video and hopefully communicates the urgency of investing resources and efforts into earthquake safety. Increase the volume, enjoy, get scared. and then be prepared!
In Unit #95 (Photo: Martje van der Heide)
“This is unit number 95”, Preeti told me. “It is the standard model.” Geeta Devi the owner shook her head. “Look up”, she said, “This is our house.” I looked up and saw what she meant: there was a beautiful lotus flower design in the ceiling. “My husband made it” Geeta said proudly. “This is our house”.
The tireless Preeti works with village communities to help them build back better (Photo: Martje van der Heide)
Preeti Bisht is the community worker for SUDHA who is mobilizing the victims of the Uttarakhand floods in this small village on the Mandakini River, well on the way to Kedarnath. She took me all the way to unit number 107 and in passing showed me the school. I soon discovered that none of the house units were standard. Some people added a room, others an extra window in the kitchen to show the amazing view up river. And the houses that were already finished were painted in every color imaginable as houses in Uttarakhand are meant to be.
I will never forget October 8, 2005, a day that changed my life forever as it did for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis.
I remember my house shaking violently like never before and my instinctive reaction to get myself and my family to safety outside the house. This was an earthquake that felt distinctly different from others. Things were shaking and moving too much and for too long. When we started seeing plumes of smoke rising from where a high rise apartment building had once stood, we knew this was really bad. Watching the terrified look of affected people on TV shook me inside and forced me to think about difference I could make. When I went back to my job and my life, the question kept nagging at me. When I was presented with the opportunity to work on the earthquake reconstruction project for the World Bank, I took it and have never looked back.
Losses due to disasters to human and physical capital are on the rise across the world. Over the past 30 years, total losses have tripled, amounting to $3.5 trillion. While the majority of these losses were experienced in OECD countries, the trend is increasingly moving towards losses in rapidly growing states.
In a sense, increasing risk and losses caused by disaster are the byproduct of a positive trend - strong development gains and economic growth. This is because disaster loss is a function of the amount of human and physical assets exposed to seismic or hydrometeorological hazards, and the level of vulnerability of the assets. The richer a country gets, the more assets it builds or acquires, and therefore the more losses it potentially faces.
Rapid development across South Asia signals the need to commit greater efforts to increase resilience to disaster and climate risk. It also requires governments to develop a strategy to both protect against events today and to develop strategies to address the losses of the future. This is a challenge somewhat unique to South Asia. The losses of today, predominantly rural flooding that impacts wide swaths of vulnerable populations, will begin to diminish in relative importance to the losses of the future.