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BRIEF January 22, 2024

World Bank-Kerala partnership breaks new ground in mainstreaming adaptation to climate change


  • Driven by climate change, Kerala, the Indian state in the southern peninsula has experienced a combination of devastating rains and droughts over the last few years
  • In 2018 alone, floods and landslides affected 5.4 million people in the region, destroying more than 10,000 KM of roads with losses amounting to almost $3.8 billion. Further devastating floods and landslides occurred between 2019 and 2021.
  • • Between 2019 and 2023 the World Bank committed a total of $525 million, including additional financing, to help the state build resilience. The cross-sectoral support has resulted in improved fiscal sustainability, faster disaster relief, and better management of water supply and sanitation, among others.

India’s densely populated southern state of Kerala receives one of the highest levels of rainfall in the country.

In 2018, Kerala experienced the most devastating floods in a century.  Some 5.4 million people, or one-sixth of the state's population, was affected, with extensive loss of life, property, and habitats, especially in the state's rice bowl, the Pamba river basin. Losses amounted to $3.74 billion (INR 267.20 billion).  

The floods proved to be a wake-up call, leading the state to rethink its development paradigm altogether and build a resilient New Kerala.

Since 2018, the World Bank's first-of-its-kind partnership with Kerala has helped the state examine the root causes of risk and strengthen its capacity to respond to disasters, climate change, disease outbreaks, and pandemics.

Our whole development trajectory has been influenced positively by the engagement,“ said Dr. Venu Vasudevan, then the Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala.

"Between 2019 and 2023, World Bank support of $525 million leveraged a total of $1.13 billion from development partners to build resilience to climate change. "


The Bank’s First Resilient Kerala Program supported the state in developing the Rebuild Kerala Development Program (RKDP), that brought in system wide changes. It focused on supporting critical institutional, structural, and policy reform in cross cutting areas of government  and sectors that were badly impacted by the 2018 floods including water resource management, urban planning, transportation and agriculture.

From 2021, a second Bank initiative supported the state in building an integrated resilience model in districts of the Pamba River Basin. The Basin is a microcosm of the state with dense tropical forests and semi-urbanized settlements. Due to the outbreak of Covid 19 and the prevalence of other zoonotic diseases, the second program also helped the state strengthen its public health systems through an integrated approach towards surveillance, prevention, and control of disease.

In June 2023, additional Bank support helped scale up coverage to nine coastal districts and initiated support for shoreline management, climate budgeting, and an Open Data Initiative (ODI) for resilience.

The World Bank’s Kerala State Partnership has also facilitated collaboration among development partners, industry, academia and think-tanks. Between 2019 and 2023, World Bank support of $525 million leveraged a total of $1.13 billion from development partners to build resilience to climate change. This included the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW), and Agence Française De Développement (AFD).

In addition to this engagement, several of the Bank’s national level projects have a footprint in the state.


  • Improved Fiscal Sustainability

    Given Kerala’s limited fiscal space and high levels of debt, the World Bank program supported steps to improve fiscal sustainability, including by mobilizing private finances. In March 2019, the state government raised $300 million in foreign markets under its first rupee-denominated Masala Bond. In addition, over $270 million was raised through a two-year cess for flood relief levied on the taxable value of services.

  • Quick Relief and Disaster Risk Insurance

    After the first major floods in 2018, it took 7-9 months for the government to distribute disaster assistance to affected households. In 2019, due to government efforts, most households received compensation within 30 days, while the rest were compensated within 3 months. In 2020, it took just 15-30 days for those affected to receive aid. The World Bank has now been working with the Government of Kerala to develop a unified database of vulnerable households so that social security benefits and disaster assistance is channelized in a timely manner.

    Over the medium term, the program aims to develop early warning systems that better predict climate-related disasters and trigger relief payments even before a disaster hits, so that households can prepare accordingly. In addition, options for disaster insurance in key sectors such as agriculture will also be increased. The Bank’s first program has already increased the uptake of agricultural risk insurance by 25.7%.

  • Introducing Risk-informed Multi-year Urban Planning

    Fuelled by money from remittances, the state’s real estate boom led to unplanned developments that increased the impacts of floods and landslides. The World Bank’s first program supported the amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act such that all Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) now incorporate disaster and climate risk in city master plans. Elected representatives across 9 ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) have been trained in disaster planning and energy conservation. Reforms have also been initiated to strengthen the resilience of critical urban infrastructure, improve design and construction standards, and mobilize private sector expertise towards this effort. 

    Improving the State’s Ability to Manage Disasters

    The World Bank’s First Resilient Kerala Program supported the government’s ambitious Rebuild Kerala Development Program (RKDP), leading to $992 million worth of projects across 16 sectors.  This included building emergency shelters and retrofitting infrastructure in hazard-prone areas. Over 8 million women and children have benefited.

    The Program also enabled 266 Local Self-Government Institutions (LSGIs) in the Pamba River Basin to make risk-informed investments, mainstreaming disaster risk in the planning process.

  • Management Of Water Supply and Sanitation

    Water supply: In the pre-monsoon summer months, many parts of the state face chronic water shortages as demand for water soars while water sources continue to shrink due to the rapid growth of built-up areas and the loss of vegetative cover. Over the years, a series of World Bank supported projects - Jalanidhi I (2000-2008) and Jalanidhi II (2001-2019) – have shown that poor rural communities are not only able to operate their own water supply systems but also make them financially sustainable. Under current Bank programs, three urban local bodies -Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode – have reduced their non-revenue water losses and enhanced the recovery of O&M expenses. The Kerala Water Authority is now publishing its annual performance reports.

    Solid waste: The Bank’s Kerala Solid Waste Management Project (2020) aims to establish an integrated solid waste management system that is financially, operationally, and environmentally sustainable. The project will support multiple activities at local and regional levels including the expansion of waste collection services, the development of facilities to recycle and manage waste, the remediation and closure of dumpsites, the development of scientific landfills, and the sanitization of government offices and hospitals. Technical work is also underway for the management of liquid and solid waste.  

    Also see: 

    Getting water on tap in rural Kerala

    A self-help story - Kerala villagers put water on tap

  • The 2018 floods highlighted the precarious nature of Kerala’s agriculture. In the Western Ghats, torrential rains and landslides wiped out large tracts of agricultural land and plantation crops, while the mid-lands and lowlands suffered massive flooding and large deposits of silt. Over a million farmers were affected and significant losses were incurred.

    To raise farmers' incomes and make agriculture more resilient, the Bank supported dividing Kerala's land into five agroecological zones: coastal plains, midlands, foothills, high hills, and the Palakkad plains. The Kerala Agriculture University has since developed tailored farming systems, plans, practices, and budgets for the 23 agro-ecological units across these zones. New farmer producer organizations (FPOs) have also been established in the Pamba river basin to improve market access. Currently, over 16,000 farmers have been mobilized through the formation of 25 FPOs. The program has also increased the uptake of agricultural insurance.

    Promoting zone-relevant farming will sustain production, increase resilience to climate shocks, and enable production clusters for market development.

  • Management of Water Resources

    To reduce the risk of floods and droughts and manage competing demands for water, the World Bank has helped Kerala introduce holistic river basin management. It has supported the state in preparing a legal framework for developing the River Basin Conservation and Management Authority (RBCMA). The Act will enable the integrated operation of reservoirs, the monitoring and collection of data, the forecasting of floods, and ensure that water is optimally allocated for agriculture, irrigation, domestic, industrial, and other uses. An integrated river basin plan and flood forecasting system is also being prepared for the Pamba and Periyar river basins. This will be rolled out in other river basins too.

    Shoreline Management Plan

    Kerala’s shoreline and coastal wetlands, with several biodiversity hotspots, create a variety of economic opportunities for the people, through trade, transportation, fishing, and other activities.  However, the shoreline suffers severe erosion from weather, climate change, crumbling protections, and human activities such as sand mining and urban development.  The Bank is now working with the government to develop and implement a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), taking into consideration the needs and interests of various sectors.

  • Kerala has the highest road density in the country and its roads were the most affected by the floods of 2018 and 2019. Since roads are critical for rescue and recovery, the state has undertaken pioneering measures to design, build and maintain resilient roads.

    The Bank’s program sought to make a significant shift from reactive to proactive asset management. It helped identify a 7,000 km network of core roads, based on climate risks and economic, environmental and social factors. Seven-year performance-based contracts were introduced, and budget allocation for the core network was increased.

    The Highway Research Institute was restructured into a Centre of Excellence (COE) , promoting climate-resilient standards, planning, and material testing.

    Also See:

    India’s Road to Resiliency: Why climate proofing India’s road network is a vital to secure sustainable developmen

    TRL Software | PWD4U App

  • Given Kerala’s vulnerability to disease outbreaks, the Bank’s program seeks to increase the preparedness of the state’s public health system though a One Health approach.  It is working to raise awareness among communities through by collaborating with Kudumbashree members and local self governance institutions.

    Also See:

    India: One Health in Action - Fighting the Giant Snail Menace in Kerala 


The Kaalavastha Podcast series captures the story behind Kerala’s journey towards a more resilient future. We follow multiple protagonists on this journey and get a behind-the-scenes look at the process of resilient development from the perspective of the communities, the government, scientists, the diaspora, World Bank experts, and even some e cultural voices from Kerala.


Episode 6 • 9th October 2020 • Kaalavastha: Kerala Podcast • World Bank

Martin Raiser, World Bank VP for South Asia, share his impressions post a visit to Kuttanad in Kerala, India



Reimagining Kerala Farm Sector