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Latin America & Caribbean

Disaster risk and school infrastructure: What we do and do not know

Sameh Wahba's picture
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Credit: Tracy Ben/ Shutterstock

“At 14:28:04 on May 12, 2008, an 8.0 earthquake struck suddenly, shaking the earth, with mountains and rivers shifted, devastated, and parted forever….” This was how China’s official report read, when describing the catastrophic consequences of the Sichuan earthquake, which left 5,335 students dead or missing.
 
Just two years ago, in Nepal, on April 25, 2015, due to a Mw 7.8 earthquake, 6,700 school buildings collapsed or were affected beyond repair. Fortunately, it occurred on Saturday—a holiday in Nepal—otherwise the human toll could have been as high as that of the Sichuan disaster, or even worse. Similarly, in other parts of the world—Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Haiti, Ecuador, and most recently Mexico—schools suffered from the impact of natural hazards. 
 
Why have schools collapsed?

Engineering our way out of disasters – the promise of resilient infrastructure

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Hurricane Irma moves through the Caribbean in this satellite image from September 5th, 2017.
Image credit: NOAA
The last few weeks have been a stark reminder of how natural disasters can undermine precious development progress in an instant. Images of incredible devastation in the Caribbean wrought by a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, collapsing buildings in Mexico during a violent series of earthquakes, and massive monsoon flooding in South Asia that claimed hundreds of lives have resulted in an outpouring of support from the international community.
 
Unfortunately, scenes like these are becoming more routine. The impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly visible, and rapid urbanization is concentrating risk in vulnerable regions of the world.
 
Just consider the following statistics:

The localization of the Sustainable Development Goals: Implementing the SDGs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Kenya

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture
Medellin, Colombia. (Photo: World Bank Group)

We are approaching the end of year two of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In September 2015, global leaders from 193 countries set a 15-year deadline – by the year 2030 – to reach the SDGs, a roadmap to end poverty, promote equality, protect people and the planet, while leaving no one behind.
 
What have countries accomplished in these past two years at the local level – where people receive vital goods and services to live and thrive – in areas such as health, education, water, job training, infrastructure? (The results are mixed) Have we raised enough financing? (Likely not). Do we have adequate data to measure progress? (Not in all countries). Some global development leaders have expressed concern that we may not be on track to reach critical SDGs in areas such as health and poverty.
 
To achieve the SDGs, we have to focus on building capacity of development actors at the local level to finance and deliver services that change the lives of people in their communities. This view is well-supported by a joint United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-World Bank Group (WBG) report, which shows that gaps in local delivery capacity are a major factor in determining the success – or failure – of efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the predecessor of the SDGs.
 
The lynchpin for successful local implementation of the SDGs is SDG 11, which focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. It is vitally important to manage the process of urbanization to achieve all of the SDGs, not least because the world population is likely to grow by a billion people – to 8.6 billion – by 2030, with most of this growth to be absorbed by urban areas in developing countries.
 
Tackling the challenges facing cities, such as infrastructure gaps, growing poverty, and concentrations of informal housing requires a multi-faceted approach that includes coordinated regional planning with strong rural-urban linkages, effective land use, innovative financing mechanisms, improved and resilient service delivery models, sustained capacity building, and the adoption of appropriate smart and green growth strategies.
 

The WBG is working with our many partners, including countries, the United Nations, the private sector, and civil society to provide more effective, coordinated, and accelerated support to countries for implementing the SDGs at the national and local levels. We have provided below examples from three countries, from diverse regions and situations, which have begun this work in earnest.
 
Following the end of a 50-year conflict in 2016, Colombia has a chance to consolidate peace after the signing of a peace agreement. The National Development Plan of 2014-2018 includes an ambitious reform program focusing on three pillars: peace, equity, and education. Through strong collaboration with all stakeholders – local governments, communities, civil society, businesses, and youth, among others – Colombia is focusing on improving institutional capacity and financing for local and regional governments, enhancing basic services in both rural and urban areas.
 
Medellin city, which in the 1990s had the highest murder rate in the world, has emerged as a confident leader, implementing an integrated and multi-sector approach that has included a combination of violence prevention programs, and the transformation into a prosperous, inclusive, and livable city. Their efforts, with support from the WBG and other partners, have the strong support of local business leaders who recognize that improving poor people’s lives can help reduce the core inequities that fueled conflict in the past. The Government of Colombia is also implementing a program to enhance the capacity at the municipal level in public finance, planning, and management, to help build infrastructure and improve service delivery.

Budget-strapped cities are creating financing—out of thin air

Luis Triveno's picture

Photo: Jonathan O'Reilly / Shutterstock

The world is urbanizing fast200,000 people are moving to cities every day in search of homes, jobs, as well as education and healthcare services for their families. Supporting this influx with proper infrastructure and services for water, sanitation, transport, and green spaces will require an estimated $1 trillion each year.
 
Given the difficulties of further increasing the tax burden or the level of public debt, it’s time for cities to think more creatively about alternative sources of funding.

Not willing to wait for their national governments to bless them with scarce infrastructure funds, innovative mayors have figured out how to squeeze a new source of urgently needed capital out of thin air, literally.

Ideas Box: the library that promotes literacy and builds disaster resilience—a Q&A

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture


Over the last two weeks, we’ve witnessed three hurricanes in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico as well as a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in Mexico, killing people and destroying homes. They serve as a reminder that natural hazards pose a greater threat to our lives and livelihoods than we may think.

Dealing with rising disaster risks requires greater efforts with smarter approaches—ones that can help vulnerable people and communities better prepare for, and recover from, disasters. Libraries Without Borders (BSF), an international organization that expands access to information, education, and cultural resources to vulnerable people around the world, knows that very well.

In 2010, BSF was building libraries in Haiti when the well-known earthquake struck. At the time, local partners asked BSF to help them create information and cultural access points in refugee camps. This experience led to the development of the “Ideas Box," an innovative tool that provides vulnerable communities in disaster-prone areas with access to information, education, and cultural resources.

Last week, on the International Literacy Day, I talked to BSF’s Director of Communications and Advocacy, Katherine Trujillo, about the Ideas Box, as well as how their innovative ideas and actions have helped promote literacy and build resilience in disaster-hit communities.

Weathering storms in Central America: The impact of hurricanes on poverty and the economy

Oscar A. Ishizawa's picture
Countries are facing increasingly frequent negative impacts from adverse natural events. Central America, a region prone and vulnerable to disasters, is a clear example. Just from 1992 to 2011, Central America was hit by nearly 70 hurricanes with an average of 8 events per year, hindering sustainable economic growth.

Between 2005 and 2014, due to natural disasters, the region had a nominal cumulative loss of around US$5.8 billion, and witnessed more than 3,410 deaths and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. More recently, in October 2011, Tropical Depression 12-E hit the coasts of El Salvador and Guatemala with damages amounting to nearly US$1 billion.

In two recent studies, we evaluated the causal impacts of hurricane windstorms on poverty and income as well as economic activity measured using night lights at the regional and country level. In both cases, we applied a fully probabilistic windstorm model developed in-house, and calibrated and adjusted it for Central America. The first study (on poverty) used yearly information at the household level (for income and poverty measures) as well as the national level (GDP per capita). Due to the limited comparable household data between the countries, we decided to follow up with the second study (on economic activity) using granular data at the highest spatial resolution available (i.e., 1 km2) to understand more deeply the (monthly) impact over time.

Our results are striking:

To build resilient cities, we must treat substandard housing as a life-or-death emergency

Luis Triveno's picture
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Resilient housing policies. © World Bank
Why resilient cities need resilient housing.  Download the full version of the slideshow here

The scene is as familiar as it is tragic: A devastating hurricane or earthquake strikes a populated area in a poor country, inflicting a high number of casualties, overwhelming the resources and capacity of rescue teams and hospital emergency rooms. First responders must resort to “triage” – the medical strategy of maximizing the efficient use of existing resources to save lives, while minimizing the number of deaths. 

But if governments could apply triage to substandard housing, medical triage would be a much less frequent occurrence – because in the developing world, it is mainly housing that kills people, not disasters.
 
From the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction to the 2017 Urban Resilience Summit, practitioners and policymakers have increasingly focused their discussions on how we can boost the resilience of urban areas.

But this is a problem with a well-known solution: Resilient cities require resilient housing.

To make housing more resilient, cities need to focus on two different but complementary angles: upgrading the existing housing stock, where most the poor live, while making sure that new construction is built safe, particularly for natural disasters. After all, if floods or earthquakes do not distinguish between old and new homes, why should policymakers? It is time for resilience to become part of the definition of “decent, affordable, and safe housing.”

 

To achieve #Housing4All, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater

Luis Triveno's picture
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Mexico City. Photo by VV Ninci via Flickr CC

In a world divided over how to deal with such serious problems as terrorism, immigration, free trade, and climate change, governments agree on the urgency of solving what is arguably the biggest problem of all: supplying safe, well-located, and affordable housing for the billions of people who need it.

There is even agreement on the basic steps to that goal:  improving land management and adopting more tenure-neutral policies.

There is also consensus on the fact that government alone cannot afford to pay the bill.  According to McKinsey & Co., the annual price tag for filling the “global housing gap” ($1.6 trillion) is twice the cost of the global investments needed in public infrastructure to keep pace with GDP growth.
 
As we approach the 70th anniversary in 2018 of the declaration of housing as a “universal human right,” it’s time for governments to turn to an obvious solution for closing the housing gap that they continue to ignore only at their peril: long-term market finance. Without a substantial increase in private capital, the housing gap will continue to increase, and so will the odds of social discontent.

Disasters, funds, and policy: Creatively meeting urgent needs and long-term policy goals

Zuzana Stanton-Geddes's picture

Photo: tro-kilinochchi / Flickr

When it comes to responding to disasters, time is of the essence. Help needs to come immediately to save lives; recovery and reconstruction have to start swiftly to lessen the impact.

However, while money is critical to this response, it’s not just about funding. Indeed, funds need to match the event scale, target the right areas and sectors, and smoothly flow to communities in need. But in order for that to happen, sound public policy on risk and frameworks have to be in place.  

To address both urgent financial needs while pursing strategic disaster risk management policy goals, countries have been using the World Bank’s development policy loan with a catastrophe deferred drawdown option or, more widely known as the Cat DDO.  

Urban Indigenous Peoples: the new frontier

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Photo by Victoria Ojea / World Bank
Photo: Victoria Ojea / World Bank

Invited to think of Buenos Aires, most would probably think of elegant cafés, beautiful architecture, passionate football fans, and buzzing streets. Invited to think harder, you might also think of its villas (slums), street children, and other less gleeful views. But no matter how hard you try, very few would associate Buenos Aires with Indigenous Peoples. Yet, Buenos Aires has the largest concentration of indigenous populations in Argentina, which is itself rarely associated with Indigenous Peoples, but has the seventh largest indigenous population in Latin America (close to one million). In effect, over 40 indigenous communities are officially registered in urban areas of the Buenos Aires Province, and as much as one quarter of all Indigenous Peoples in Argentina make a living in or around the Capital of Tango, whether in communities or not.

What do they do? What conditions they are living in? What is happening to their unique cultures and languages? Are they losing connection with their ancestral lands? Is the special legislation protecting their collective rights relevant in the cityscape? In sum, how is the city changing them and, inversely, how are they shaping the urban landscape? These and other questions were at the heart of the dialogue I had with graduate students from across the Latin America region in FLACSO – University of Buenos Aires, last week, on the occasion of the presentation of the report Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century, in Buenos Aires.

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