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Preventing Disasters: Global Experiences, Challenges, Solutions

Floods, IndonesiaEarthquake, HaitiFloods, Colombia - Photo by Scott WallaceTerrain deformation map of the region hit by the 11 March 2011, map showing Japan | Credits: INGV, ENVISAT data: copyright ESA; INGV is the Tectonics Theme Leader of ESA's Terrafirma projectFishing Village - Cote d'Ivoire. Photo: Ami Vitale/World Bank

The unprecedented magnitude of Japan’s recent disaster has urged the international community to reexamine its approach towards disaster prevention.

April 22, 2011

The statistics can be staggering…the numbers numbing. In 2010 alone, 373 natural disasters killed more than 296,800 people, affected some 208 million others and cost nearly US$110 billion. They are the natural calamities of our time—the Haiti earthquake, the floods in Africa and Pakistan, and in the years before, Hurricane Katrina, the Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Mitch. Now, there is Japan with its devastating earthquake and tsunami.

The unprecedented magnitude of Japan’s recent disaster has urged the international community to reexamine its approach towards disaster prevention. On April 15, in Washington the Government of Japan and the World Bank through the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) teamed up to showcase lessons learned from recent disasters around the world—including Japan’s experiences.

Rintaro TamakiWith a wealth of history in engagement in international cooperation for disaster prevention, Japan intends to contribute to strengthening the disaster prevention policies in developing countries going forward, in close cooperation with the World Bank, by consolidating our experience of the recent earthquake and tsunamis. | Rintaro Tamaki, Japan’s Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs

Speaking at the event, Rintaro Tamaki, Japan’s Vice Minister of Finance for International Affairs pointed out that a natural disaster may take countless precious lives, and ruin past development efforts instantly, and in that sense disaster prevention can be considered as the most important development issue. Mr. Tamaki went on to say “Now may be an opportune time, in that sense, to think about future disaster prevention—since the devastating earthquake and tsunamis have drawn world attention. With a wealth of history in engagement in international cooperation for disaster prevention, Japan intends to contribute to strengthening the disaster prevention policies in developing countries going forward, in close cooperation with the World Bank, by consolidating our experience of the recent earthquake and tsunamis.”

Such lessons are critical to the work of the GFDRR, a partnership of 36 countries and seven international organizations committed to helping developing countries reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards and adapt to climate change. Its secretariat is housed in the World Bank. With GFDRR’s creation in 2006, the Bank increased its capacity to integrate disaster risk management into development strategies, undertake timely post-disaster needs assessments, develop innovative financing and research mechanisms, and build countries’ capacity. Today, GFDRR’s cumulative donor pledge stands at more than US$258 million and its impact can be seen around the world. Some examples:

Turning Innovation into Results

Promoting Innovative Approaches in Understanding, Managing and Financing Disaster Risk

Saroj Jha, Program Manager, GFDRR, on managing and preventing disasters
GFDRR promotes innovative and balanced risk financing solutions. The Facility has co-financed 17 technical assistance projects or project components on disaster risk financing since 2006. Thirty-three developing countries spanning all six World Bank regions have benefitted from GFDRR-funded disaster relief financing projects in three categories: Sovereign disaster risk financing, property catastrophe risk insurance, and agricultural insurance.

The most visible arm of GFDRR, the Standby Recovery Financing Facility (SRFF), has been providing immediate response and support to global disasters for the last three years. Using the established Damage and Loss Assessment (DaLA) methodology to help countries evaluate the impact of natural disasters in developing nations, the SRFF can be found in any disaster-hit nation once the government makes an official request. The SRFF has provided assistance to 16 countries in the last nine months alone.

In March this year, SRFF dispatched multiple personnel to Lesotho to work with government officials, the UN, and the European Commission after floods displaced over 5,000 people and destroyed up to 60% of crops in some districts. After training some 70 personnel that were to take part in a post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA), GFDRR-World Bank experts supported 23 government-led teams that set out to evaluate the damages, losses, and human recovery needs in all affected areas. SRFF engagement with disaster-hit and disaster-prone countries does not stop after a PDNA is completed, nor is it limited to developing nations. It works to build capacity in disaster management and reduction after and before a disaster strikes.

Harnessing DRM Tools and Methodologies for Climate Adaptation


GFDRR Labs uses technology and innovation to inform decision making, to reduce the vulnerability of the developing world to disasters in a changing climate.

For example, Post-Disaster Damage and Needs Assessment (PDNA) is a critical service provided to governments following a disaster. The Labs provide real-time mapping support and damage validation through remote sensing and earth observation. The Labs partner with civil society and promote innovation by building non-traditional public and private partnerships. It supports Volunteer Technology Communities (VTCs) such as the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) initiative; in partnership with Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and NASA.

Since 2006, about two-thirds of GFDRR’s assistance has had a primary focus on climate change adaptation. Climate change is projected to increase disaster risks by altering average climatic conditions. It will also result in increased weather volatility, potentially increasing the risk of hunger and malnutrition, especially in Africa.

What is needed are new approaches to financing responses to drought risk. There are exciting programs on the horizon. For example, one area that is being explored for Africa is a Drought Risk Financing Facility. A Pan-African approach to managing drought risk, would provide governments with fast-disbursing contingency funds to be used to finance responses to drought. It would build on lessons learned from other disaster risk financing programs for example in Ethiopia and Malawi; the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF); Pacific Catastrophe Risk Pool Initiative; IFC’s Global Index Insurance Facility; World Bank Catastrophe Deferred Draw-Down Option; and the World Bank Multi Cat Program.

This month, GFDRR will begin to roll out climate adaptation profiles for its 31 priority countries. They will offer a concise and user-friendly operational reference to countries' climate change baseline to help ‘climate-proof’ development strategies and programming.

Innovation beyond Financing

But GFDRR’s innovative approaches go well beyond financing. Take the example of Nepal.
Nepal is at the mercy of significant natural hazards, including floods, landslides, and earthquakes. Nearly one third of the population lives below the poverty line, reducing people’s capacity to cope with shock. The GFDRR has provided technical assistance to the Government of Nepal to support its efforts to build a safer, more resilient country. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, a national strategy to improve the seismic resistance of schools across the country is now in action. The GFDRR also financed a feasibility study for a national agricultural risk insurance scheme, to better protect the country from the catastrophic effects of drought and flood. The innovative initiative is now in design. And then there is the work in Haiti.

Prevention Pays ... if Done Right


The Haiti earthquake lasted for 45 seconds but left 800,000 people homeless. Five weeks after the disaster, GFDRR and its partners had 300 trained engineers going door-to-door to gauge whether building were safe. If they tagged them RED, they were too dangerous for occupation, YELLOW if the building could be repaired and GREEN for totally safe.

About 400,000 buildings were assessed in a year. For each building,
 engineers recorded GPS coordinates, an evaluation report, and a photo - SEE VIDEO. This data helped form the geo-referencing inventory for recovery planning. Fifty-four percent of homes were classified as green, 26% yellow, and 20% red. This data now provides information for reconstruction and relocation. Phase two of the program will focus on retrofitting yellow-tagged buildings and decongesting slums. The guidelines from phase one are helping craft the National building norms for Haiti.

The development impacts of disasters make it urgent to reexamine our approach to disaster prevention.  Looking ahead, growing cities and a changing climate will shape disaster risks. The number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities could double to 1.5 billion by 2050. Much of this increase in exposure will be in Asia and the Pacific. Furthermore, by the turn of the century, even without climate change, baseline damages from weather-related hazards are expected to triple to US$185 billion annually.  In 2010, in partnership with the UN, the GFDRR published the flagship report Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention, which received unprecedented praise, not just by practitioners, but by prominent economists including six Nobel Laureates.

The message was simple: For far too long the disaster community has been focused on the R’s of disaster management—relief, recovery, reconstruction, and not enough on the P’s—prevention and preparedness. For example, in 2002, faced with impending floods, Mozambique requested US$3-4 million from donor countries to help it prepare. It received maybe half that amount. But after the floods struck, the same donors gave Mozambique more than US$100 million in relief and pledged more than US$450 million for recovery and reconstruction. The main message of the report— prevention pays, if done right. It is a message that resonates with very different audiences in both developing and developed countries, confirming that prevention is everybody’s business.

Looking Ahead

Engaging with Civil Society

On May 9, 2011 the 10th Consultative Group (CG), the governance body of the GFDRR, co-chaired by the World Bank and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) will meet in Geneva. One of the main initiatives to be discussed at the meeting is a Civil Society Strategy.

This partnership will help to ensure that the country-level disaster risk reduction framework promoted by GFDRR in developing countries is translated into local-level policy, action and results, which community-based organizations can play a major role in delivering. GFDRR already engages with civil society through global dialogue and advocacy, in the implementation of disaster risk reduction country programs, and in carrying out Post Disaster Needs Assessments. The focus is on participation and accountability, and south-south knowledge exchange.

Rethinking Reconstruction for a Safer Future

Also in May (May 10-13), the World Bank and the GFDRR along with the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) are co-sponsoring the World Reconstruction Conference (WRC) the first ever large-scale global conference focused on natural disaster recovery and reconstruction. With a theme of rethinking reconstruction for a safer world, along with other sessions, the conference will feature a High Level Panel, which will tackle the thorny questions on recovery and reconstruction: Have we learned the lessons of the past? How do we ensure that communities get what they deserve in the reconstruction and recovery period? Prevention Pays, so why are we not investing in it?

The Real Bottom Line

Jeanne Bousiko  
Investing Today for Safer Tomorrow: Disaster Risk Reduction
In the end, whether its work is pre- or post-, wherever in the world disaster strikes, the GFDRR is all about helping people. Its work speaks to a world that has long believed that it is at the whim of nature’s wrath, but the GFDRR and its partners are showing that there is new hope. Perhaps there is no better symbol of that hope than the photo of a woman in post earthquake Haiti who stands smiling under a number marked in green on her house. That green number means everything to 72 year old Jeanne Bousiko—she can now go home—her house is safe to live in.

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Last updated: 2011-04-22

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