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Urban Development

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?

Transforming urban waterfronts

Fen Wei's picture
Also available in: 中文
HafenCity, Hamburg. Photo Credit: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at
HafenCity, Hamburg.
Photo Credit: ELBE&FLUT / Thomas Hampel at
“The waterfront isn’t just something unto itself. It’s connected to everything else,” said Jane Jacobs, a prominent urbanist.
This connection is twofold; it refers to the relationship between cities and their waterfronts – as ever-changing as cities themselves.
Evolving from its past definition during the industrial era as a city’s service yard, the urban waterfront has, in recent decades, taken on new meanings.

On one hand, the waterfront is playing a more significant role in transforming the urban fabric of a city or even reshaping a city’s identity.
On the other hand, successful urban waterfronts have also demonstrated how city resources – such as available land, cleaner water, historic preservation, and urban revitalization – can be unlocked and realized, and how these elements can be integrated into the city and public life.
[Read: Regenerating Urban Land: A Practitioner's Guide to Leveraging Private Investment]

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.

The power of data in driving sustainable development… Is solid waste the low hanging fruit?

John Morton's picture
Photo by Lisa Yao / World Bank

The data revolution is upon us and the benefits, including improving the efficiency of corporations, spurring entrepreneurship, improving public services, improving coordination, and building profitable partnerships, are becoming more evident.

For public services, the potential gains are impressive. Globally in the electricity sector, an estimated $340 – 580 billion of economic value can be captured by providing more and better data to consumers to improve energy efficiency, and to operators for streamlining project management and the operation of their facilities. Even larger gains ($720 – 920 billion) could be captured in the transport sector.

Exploring the benefits of open data in the solid waste sector has been slower than for other services, however, if you take a closer look, the benefits may be substantial. Solid waste services have a lot to gain – with low service coverage and a lack of modernization in most parts of the world; solid waste services can be costly, representing 10 – 50% of municipal budgets in many developing countries; and it is directly dependent on many actors. To be effective, citizens, institutions, and private companies need to be informed and involved.

[Download: What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management]

Some examples of what making better quality data available on solid waste services could do include: 

The best laid plans… have data. With average waste collection rates of 41% and 68% for low- and lower middle-income countries, respectively, and less than 10% of the corresponding waste disposed in a sanitary manner, many municipalities in the world lack solid waste services. The introduction of modern solid waste systems in these areas represents a monumental organizational change and logistical challenge. It necessitates the introduction of collection services for, among others, each household, and every commercial building and supermarket; the coordination with, informing, and incentivizing all the actors in recycling; the operation of transport services; and the operation of effective disposal or treatment options for the daily, relentless influx of waste. Systematically collecting quality data will help municipalities to undertake strategic planning, integrate service planning into urban planning, and make the necessary decisions that allow them to establish a solid waste system that is properly dimensioned and cost-effective. 

Punjab, Pakistan has just transformed its land record management system. What can we learn?

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Land is an essential resource for sustainable development. From large cities to remote villages, land remains one of the most important assets for many people, especially the poor.

Worldwide, only 3 out of 10 people have a legally registered title to their land. Difficulties associated with land administration and registration systems, together with inequalities of land distribution and tenure insecurity, often hinder social and economic development.

In Pakistan, the province of Punjab faced such a challenge. For many rural landowners in the province, land titles weren’t easily accessible, nor were they properly managed and protected. To tackle the land administration challenge, the government of Punjab turned to an innovative solution: they used digital technology to modernize its old, inefficient paper-based land administration system.

Supported by the World Bank, the Punjab Land Records Management and Information Systems (LRMIS) project turned out to be one of the success stories for the province of Punjab. Within just five years, Punjab scanned 10 million pages of old records, digitized over 55 million landowners’ records—98% of all records—across the province, and made all rural land title information available online 24/7 for landowners.

Prior to the project, it would take up to two months to complete a land transaction in Punjab. Today, it takes a rural Punjab resident only 50 minutes to receive a digitally recorded, legally registered land title from one of the 144 newly created land record offices across all 36 districts of the province. This has helped the province of Punjab enhance the transparency of land administration while securing land rights for its people, including women farmers who were denied their land rights in the old system.

In this video, World Bank Senior Director Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez (@Ede_WBG) and Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, Director General of Punjab Land Records Authority, discuss in detail the past, present, and future of the Punjab LRMIS project.

Going forward, the government of Punjab plans to expand digital land record management to its urban areas. Cities and villages alike in other countries can also learn from this successful project and innovative approach to land administration. 

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.

Leaving no one behind – achieving disability-inclusive disaster risk management

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
Southern, Thailand - January 9, 2017: a volunteer helps a man with a disability get through the flood in his wheelchair. Photo: issara anujun /
Natural hazard events can occur in any country, at any time.  At present, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are dealing with the aftermath of some of the worst monsoon flooding in years, which has left more than 1,200 people dead and millions homeless.  At the same time, North America and the Caribbean region are responding to some of the strongest hurricanes on record.

At such times of peril, individual and community resilience is at a premium, and we cannot afford to miss opportunities to bolster that resilience wherever possible. This is especially true with respect to certain groups – such as persons with disabilities – who have historically been disproportionately affected by natural hazards.

While some strides have been made in addressing the needs of persons with different disabilities in response and recovery efforts, fewer efforts are aimed at incorporating lessons into long-term disaster and climate risk management at a systemic and/or policy level.  

More needs to be done to create disability inclusion for all – a topic that was discussed during a Facebook Live chat on September 19.