Just ahead of this year’s anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, I visited the Tsunami Honganji Vihara site in Sri Lanka where upwards of 2,000 people died when their train was destroyed by the force of the waves. Shortly after my visit, Sri Lanka was faced with an unusually large tropical cyclone that pummeled the capital of Colombo, and caused extensive flooding, power failures and infrastructure damage. And, a few thousand miles away, Bali’s highest volcano, Mount Agung, was threatening to erupt, causing considerable anxiety in Colombo that it could trigger another tsunami event of the same magnitude of the 2004 disaster.
Upon my return to the United States I learned of the raging wildfires in California causing massive damages.
This year’s seemingly never-ending adverse weather events, exacerbated by climate change, along with adverse natural events such as earthquakes, are negatively impacting critical infrastructure globally. Some might describe 2017 as a global “annus horribilis” for adverse “force majeure” events.
Co-authors: William Young, Lead Water Resources Management Specialist, the World Bank
The Ganges Basin in South Asia is home to some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities. Annual floods during monsoon season cause widespread human suffering and economic losses. This year, torrential rains and catastrophic floods affected more than 45 million people, including 16 million children. By 2030, with ongoing climate change and socioeconomic development, floods may cost the region as much as $215 billion annually.
Over the years, Bangladesh has taken major strides to reduce the vulnerability of its people to disasters and climate change. And today, the country is at the forefront in managing disaster risks and building coastal resilience.
Let’s compare the impact of the Bhola Cyclone of 1970 to the far stronger Cyclone Sidr in 2007. The 1970 cyclone was then the deadliest in Bangladesh’s history, and one of the 10 deadliest natural disasters on record. Official documents indicate that over 300,000 lives were lost, and many believe the actual numbers could be far higher.
By contrast, Sidr was the strongest cyclone to ever make landfall in Bangladesh. This time, fewer than 3,500 people lost their lives. While tragic, this represents about 1% of the lives lost in 1970 or 3% of the nearly 140,000 lost lives in the 1991 cyclone.
The cyclones of 1970 and 1991 were unprecedented in scale. Yet, they steered the country into action.
How can a country vulnerable to natural disasters mitigate the effects of climate change? In Bangladesh, resilient communities have shown that by using local solutions it is possible to combat different types of climate change impacting different parts of the country.
Every year, flash floods and drought affect the north and north-west regions. Drinking water becomes scarce, land becomes barren and people struggle to find shelter for themselves and their livestock. In the coastal districts, excessive saline makes it impossible to farm and fish.
The Community Climate Change Project (CCCP) has awarded grants to around 41 NGOs to address salinity, flood and drought-prone areas. With the help from local NGOs, communities innovated simple solutions to cope up with changing climate and earn a better living benefiting at least 40,000 people in the most vulnerable districts.
Raising the plinths of their homes in clusters has helped more than 15,000 families escape floods, and they continued to earn their livelihoods by planting vegetables and rearing goats on raised ground. Vermicomposting has also helped to increase crop yields. In the saline affected areas, many farmers have started to cultivate salinity tolerant crabs with women raising their income level by earning an additional BDT 1500 a month from saline tolerant mud crab culture in high saline areas.
Watch how communities use these three solutions to tackle climate change impacts.
As Vietnamese, we look very fondly to Singapore as a model for development in the region, especially fostered by a close relationship between Vietnamese leaders and the former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew—Singapore's founder and mastermind behind all its modern-day achievements. Singapore represents modernity and civilization, notably with limited natural resources. The city-state has proved an applicable model of development for cities in Vietnam to achieve not only competitiveness but also sustainability and inclusiveness.
I just returned to Vietnam after attending the World Bank’s first-ever , a series of events that brought together city leaders from across Asia and beyond to explore innovative approaches to urban planning and management.
A topic that cut across all these areas is flood risk management, which was featured extensively during the launch event of the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities. I had the opportunity to learn more about the role of green mitigation infrastructure in integrated urban flood risk management, with lessons from Japan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Senegal, and the Netherlands. In these countries, green structures such as retarding basins, permeable pavement, and rainwater storage or infiltration trench have complemented conventional structural measures to reduce flood risk in a cost-effective manner.
After growing up in Manila, one of the densest and most cyclone-prone cities in the world, I expected my first visit to Mongolia to be filled with vast plains and blue skies. The plains and skies did not disappoint – but I quickly learned that Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital, is a city that is rapidly becoming like many other cities where I have lived and worked.
There is the unmistakable buzz of a place that is growing, and growing fast. People move to Ulaanbaatar from the countryside for the opportunities that open up to them, with the city now home to nearly half the country’s population. It is becoming more cosmopolitan every time I go – there is even a Cuban restaurant with a Cuban chef. And, like many other cities in Asia, Ulaanbaatar has floods.
Out of the 34 floods recorded from 1915-2013, about 60% occurred from 2000-2009. The 1966 flood stood out in collective memory as being the last “big one.” Yet in 1966, Ulaanbaatar only had a population of over 200,000, now it has over 1.3 million people.