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Disaster Management in Africa: Overview

Disaster Management in Africa

Much of Africa is undergoing rapid economic growth with some analysts likening it to Asia during the tiger economy days. Therefore, the need to reduce and manage the risk of natural and man-made disasters is greater than ever as just one major disaster can significantly stunt a nation’s economic growth. The number of disasters reported in Africa has increased significantly (since the 1970s) and their economic impact on countries is becoming more and more apparent. 

Over the last four decades, Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced more than 1,000 disasters. They are a major threat to development, putting recent economic development gains at risk. Africa’s disaster profile is characterized by extreme hydro-meteorological events which will likely increase in frequency and magnitude due to climate change. Sub-Saharan Africa’s disaster profile is closely linked to the vulnerability of its population and economy and their often-low capacities to cope with natural hazards.

The majority of disasters in Africa are hydro-meteorological in nature, with droughts still affecting the largest number of people on the continent and floods occurring frequently along the major river systems and in many urban areas. Cyclones mainly affect Madagascar, Mozambique, and some of the Indian Ocean islands. Geological hazards are less pronounced and predominately appear along the Rift Valley. Climate change will also trigger a higher magnitude and frequency of these extreme weather events. Sea level increases, coastal erosion, and storm surges are a very real threat for low-lying coastal areas.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s disaster profile is closely linked to the vulnerability of its population and economies and exacerbated by minimal coping capacities. Most African countries have limited resources to invest in disaster risk reduction and minimal fiscal space to fund relief and recovery efforts after a major disaster. Disasters can be a tremendous setback for economic growth and performance. Poor, small island states and land-locked countries are particularly vulnerable to the economic impact of disasters. The capacities of many national and local disaster prevention and response authorities remain limited. In many areas, the economy is based on rain-fed agriculture, which is highly susceptible to climate variability.

The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) (see figure) is the primary global framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management. Together with the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), the African Union (AU) and numerous other development partners, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) are key partners to support its implementation. The World Bank’s disaster risk management (DRM) activities in Sub-Saharan Africa are coordinated by the Africa DRM Team.

Figure: Building blocks for the Africa disaster risk management strategy

Figure: Building blocks for the Africa disaster risk management strategy

The Africa DRM Team puts the implementation of this framework into practice in a concerted approach; most prominently with ex-post activities to assist partner countries in response to disaster situations through PDNAs. From 2008 through 2012, this was the case for floods in West and Southern Africa, cyclones in Madagascar, droughts in the Horn of Africa, and an earthquake in Malawi. More importantly though, is the dialogue and technical assistance for governments on disaster risk reduction and substantial investments in risk reduction projects around the continent. Such dialogue and assistance prepares investments in disaster risk reduction. Regional collaboration facilitates reaching out to the regional economic communities, the African union, specialized regional organizations and the initiatives of UNISDR and other UN partners.

Forward looking new initiatives will facilitate and further advance the dialogue with the government on new financing and risk insurance instruments, facilitate open data access and sharing, encourage technological innovations such as the use of satellite technology and IT and outreach to civil society.

The World Bank Africa Region’s DRM activities build upon the Hyogo Framework for Action and the 2004 ratified African Union-regional strategy. The strategy focuses on the following objectives:

  • Facilitate disaster risk and vulnerability assessments across sectors; strengthen early warning and monitoring systems
  • Foster awareness, and support policy and institutional building for DRM
  • Invest in risk mitigation and reduction of underlying risk factors
  • Support new preparedness, contingency and catastrophic risk financing instruments
  • Improve emergency response and preparedness; assist in post-disaster situations

The Africa DRM Team conducted Post Disaster Needs Assessments (PDNAs) upon request of the respective governments with the most recent following the 2011 Kenya Drought and 2010 floods in Bénin. PDNAs are a standardized instrument to assess the socio-economic impacts of disasters and provide a framework for recovery and reconstruction. Partners recognize PDNAs as objective, which allows them to unveil critical bottlenecks to reconstruction, such as urban drainage infrastructure or weak institutional arrangements.

As an example, the PDNAs estimated the flood damage in Bénin in 2010 amounted to 78.3 billion CFA francs (about US$160 million). The losses amounted to 48.8 billion CFA francs (approximately $100 million). ‘Build-back-better strategies’, addressing a forward-looking, risk reduction approach, were proposed in all assessments as a basis for further investments in risk reduction and mitigation efforts. Estimates range from $436 million for capital investments to flood-proof parts of northern Namibia (from 2008) to $36 million to mitigate the impact of reoccurring floods in Bangui, CAR (2009).

The PDNAs have provided momentum for a long-term dialogue with governments on DRR and an entry point to assess further investments. They have also highlighted the very real impact on GDP, as was the case from the Kenya drought, and how the implementation of DRR can greatly reduce the economic loss which stems from disasters. The first implemented activities also highlighted a number of lessons to be addressed:

  • Institutional aspects often require a long-term dialogue with the involved governments
  • Risk and vulnerability assessments should be more targeted to the strategic needs of the countries
  • Focus on countries most vulnerable to natural hazards in the region
  • The synergy with the climate change adaptation agenda should be further strengthened.

To build upon first lessons learned, the Africa DRM Team initiated a more comprehensive and concerted approach through DRM Country Plans. Nine focus countries were selected for an initial implementation: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Senegal, and Togo.

The DRM Country Plans are based on the five pillars of the HFA and build upon an assessment of hazards. They support a broad range of initiatives ranging from institutional strengthening to early warning systems. The plans also include support to educational programs, reduction of underlying risks, and improved response to and recovery from disasters. Through a broad consultation with stakeholders from national ministries, development partners and NGOs, DRM Country Plans have been established for an average of $5 million; to be implemented over a three to five year period. These plans allow for creating a framework for long-term dialogue with governments on DRR and the continuation of assessments. In most focus countries DRM Country Plans have been initiated successfully and are moving toward implementation.

Close dialogue with partner governments followed the PDNAs, which often led to dedicated investments in risk reduction and mitigation. The Africa DRM Team supports countries to initiate investments in reconstruction and risk reduction. Regional activities, such as the AU and its Regional Economic Communities (RECs), are important instruments to address the regional dimension of risk reduction such as early warning networks and knowledge exchange. The Africa DRM Team continues to seek linkages with the work on climate change adaptation.

Regional partnerships in Africa predominately build upon close collaboration with UN agencies, particularly UNISDR, African Union, and Regional Economic Communities, such as ECOWAS, IGAD and SADC and their technical agencies.

Since 2008 the World Bank’s Africa Region DRM Team has put this into practice in a concerted approach. Recently, new initiatives, such as the collaborative efforts for South-South cooperation and innovations in disaster risk reduction, have become prominent elements.

Thenational governments, their national DRM organizations, and national platforms for disaster risk reduction are key partners for its implementation. To put these objectives into practice the Africa DRM Team has launched risk and vulnerability assessments as its first set of activities. They initially covered economic impacts, flooding in urban areas, water resources management, drought and food security, marine environments, as well as capacity building initiatives. The following examples provide a snapshot of the conducted risk and vulnerability assessments.

  • A pilot study assessed flood, coastal surge and sea level rise hazards in greater Dakar, Senegal. The study identified high population hotspots in high-risk areas and pinpointed a number of critical institutional aspects related to disaster risk management in a regional context.
  • Severe droughts and related food insecurity have led to major humanitarian crises in Ethiopia. Through a weather-based risk management framework (Livelihood, Early Assessment and Protection, LEAP), costs for interventions can be determined at a very early stage and livelihoods can be protected through contingency operations.
  • The World Bank supported the development of a macro-economic model that assessed the economic impacts of frequent droughts and floods in Malawi. The model assessed average annual losses and impacts on various economic sectors and poverty levels. The results indicated that average annual losses to GDP through droughts and floods could total up to 1.7 percent.