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An Evaluation of World Bank Assistance for Natural Disasters
The impact of natural disasters on economic well-being and human suffering has increased alarmingly, as have the costs: costs between 1990-99 were more than 15 times higher than they were between 1950-59. Bank assistance has spanned multiple sectors, including urban, rural, environment, infrastructure, education, health, and social protection.


This report is the first ever assessment of World Bank assistance for natural disasters, and one of the most comprehensive reviews of disaster preparedness and response ever conducted. The report calls for new thinking that integrates predictable disaster risks into development programs. The report concludes that it is possible to anticipate where many natural disasters will strike, yet expresses concerns that the World Bank's disaster assistance efforts are underutilizing these vital lifesaving forecasts.

The World Bank is the largest funding agency of disaster recovery and reconstruction in developing countries. Since 1984, the Bank has financed a total of $26 billion in disaster activities. These more than 500 projects represent almost 10% of all Bank loan commitments during this period. Over 80 percent of Bank disaster financing has addressed rapid onset disasters -- floods, earthquakes, tropical storms and fires.

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World Bank disaster projects performed better than the Bank's portfolio as a whole.

orange arrowWhen disasters struck, the Bank demonstrated flexibility in managing small and large scale disaster responses, and coordinated with other donors to ensure rapid assistance. 
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Within disaster projects, the Bank did better at reconstructing damaged infrastructure and housing than it did in reducing vulnerabilities and addressing their root causes.

orange arrowIn almost half of the countries where the Bank was later called on to finance disaster reconstruction projects, disaster prevention did not play any role in the overall development strategy for the country. The report urges that disaster risk be built into development planning from the start.
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More actively involve vulnerable communities in disaster prone areas in planning and preparation as well as in rebuilding during preparation and rebuilding. Such participation rarely occurs, and yet direct community involvement can improve planning, strengthen ownership of projects, preserve existing social relationships and help families and neighborhoods stay intact.

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Ensure systematic maintenance of essential infrastructure in disaster prone areas, such as levees and flood control gates, to help protect vulnerable populations from future catastrophes. Temporary shelter is rarely temporary and must be built solidly enough to withstand predictable subsequent disasters.

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New approaches to finance the cost and prevention of disasters are needed regionally and globally including better use of insurance mechanisms.


World Bank Response to the Haiti Earthquake

Development Actions and the Rising Incidence of Disasters

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Hotspots & Vulnerable Countries >

Facts & Figures >    


inod Thomas
Director-General of Evaluation

"Losses from natural disasters have averaged nearly 1 5 percent of the GDP in the world's poorest countries in the past two decades – a time during which more than 4 billion people in the world were directly affected... More can and must be done to anticipate, adjust and act in confronting the incidence of disasters and their risk to development."


Natural Disasters 

Natural disasters destroyed $652 billion in property worldwide in the 1990s alone – an amount 15 times higher in real terms compared to the 1950s.
Approximately 2.6 billion people were affected by natural disasters over the past ten years, compared to 1.6 billion the previous decade. Developing countries have borne the brunt of these catastrophes, accounting for over 95 percent of all casualties.