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Resilience Dialogue: Preparing for a Changing World

April 25, 2012

Tran Thi Hoa/World Bank

  • Rapid urbanization and climate change are reshaping and exacerbating disaster risk.
  • Together, they have added urgency to the task of building resilience in communities and countries around the world.
  • A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issues a sobering warning.

Climate extremes that we could hardly imagine and cope with every 20 years are going to happen every two years in this century. This is the message of a sobering report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change about the dramatic climate extremes that are expected to increase around the world.

Meeting on the margins of the World Bank/IMF spring meetings on April 20 to discuss the implications of the report for their work on building resilience, donors, developing countries and international organizations reaffirmed their commitment to making disaster resilience a priority in development planning. The group of leading officials also agreed that integrating disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation into the development agenda is critical to building resilience in communities and countries.

"We have too often witnessed how disasters can roll back years of development progress," said World Bank Managing Director Mahmoud Mohieldin. "On top of that, we now need to prepare for a changing world—rapid urbanization and a changing climate are reshaping and exacerbating disaster risks. But as we discussed today, geography need not be destiny, and the future—however uncertain and unpredictable when we factor in the impact of climate change—need not be feared if correct preventive policies are taken today.”

Convened by the European Union, the Government of Japan, and the World Bank/GFDRR (Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery), the Resilience Dialogue was informed by last month’s IPCC report Managing the Risk of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.

Christopher Field, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group ll, warned the group: “The risk profiles are changing—several kinds of climate and weather extremes are increasing and are projected to increase in the future. In the second half of the century, we are looking at a ten-fold increase in the frequency of severe heat events. The most extreme heat waves that we currently experience only once a decade will become annual events.”

Field pointed out that we are, in many places, already seeing increases in extremes in heavy precipitation and in the length and severity of droughts. For many poor communities living in areas already exposed to even moderate climate events, such as floods, this is indeed bad news. The people most impacted are those most vulnerable in the developing world—in 2010, the Pakistan floods alone left six million people homeless.

Floods are the most frequent of all natural disasters. A recent World Bank paper on cities and flooding estimates that flooding in 2010 affected 178 million people. Unprecedented―and often unregulated and unplanned―urbanization in the developing world, a large part of which is in fertile floodplains and/or coastal regions, is a key cause of increased exposure to flooding. In China, 100 million people have moved from inland to coastal areas in the last 20 years. Globally 600 million people will occupy coastal floodplain land below flood level by 2100.

Indonesia knows too well the horrendous impact that disasters can have―the cost in lives and GDP. The 2004 tsunami took more than 200,000 lives. But Indonesia has learned from its disasters.

“Indonesia faces more than 100 disasters a year,” said Armida Alisjahbana Minister of National Development Planning, Indonesia. “In 2004, the tsunami cost about 45 percent of Aceh's regional economy. We have tried since to prepare for disasters in a more systematic way—early warning systems in disaster-prone areas, more coordinated efforts, money in our budget to anticipate disasters, a five-year blueprint to prepare for disasters. The key to make coordination work, the key thing is to have a single institution dealing with these issues. We don’t have institutions duplicating work.”

" The risk profiles are changing—several kinds of climate and weather extremes are increasing and are projected to increase in the future. In the second half of the century, we are looking at a ten-fold increase in the frequency of severe heat events. "

Christopher Field

Co-Chair, IPCC Working Group II

The key message from this IPCC report is the need for climate change adaptation, disaster risk management and sustainable development to be integrated into the same agenda in order to help build resilience. But the numbers tell us that we’re not there yet. The world is still spending more on humanitarian aid after a disaster than investing in prevention. According to Andris Piebalgs, Commissioner for Development, European Union, global disaster losses amounted to US$264 billion in 2011. That amount was twice the official development aid in 2011.

The World Bank, as a development institution, has been focusing more and more on building resilience. It established disaster risk reduction as a practice group, staffed up, and invested US$6 billion in the last six years in disaster risk reduction to support countries to integrate resilience into their development strategies.

“Over the last three years, two-thirds of our country assistance strategies have started to build in disaster risk management. The aim is to get to 100 percent," said Kyte. "We have to change the way we think about infrastructure, agriculture, transportation, water, energy, how communities become resilient, what kind of information we share. We have to help people make infrastructure decisions that will prove resilient far into the future. But we know, too, that we are in an 'adaptation' institution. Climate change adaptation has to be integrated in all we do.”

Working Together and Next Steps

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), as the disaster risk reduction focal point in the World Bank, is leading assistance to the Government of Mexico to develop disaster risk reduction as a priority topic for Mexico’s G20 presidency in 2012.

Dario Luna, who leads the Insurance, Pensions and Social Security unit in Mexico's Ministry of Finance, is coordinating this initiative for the Mexican government.

“We in Mexico give a lot of importance to disaster risk reduction because we are a country that is prone to disasters,” Luna said. “As presidency of the G20, we wanted to put this topic on the agenda―emphasizing the reduction of both human and economic cost. One of the key aspects of our changing world is the increased exposure to natural disasters. We believe that this effort will help DRR gain more prominence in G20 countries and with finance ministers.”

A key challenge in the development of risk management strategies based on robust risk information, analysis, and modeling is the lack of systematic tools and methodologies to collect data, assess risk and vulnerability, and inform decision making. A joint Mexico and World Bank public policy publication will be produced on Improving the Assessment of Natural Disaster Risks to Strengthen Financial Resilience, and presented to the G20 summit on 18-19 June in Los Cabos.

Naoko Ishii, deputy vice minister of finance for International Affairs in Japan, closed the Resilience Dialogue by announcing that the next high level meeting will be held during the October 2012 IMF-World Bank Annual meetings. The event will be in Sendai, a city in the Tohoku prefecture that bore the brunt of the tsunami last year, and its objective will be to develop a global consensus among the international community to advance the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation as a development priority.

“The very timely IPCC Report makes clear that disaster risk management and climate change adaptation measures are essentially two sides of the same coin," Ishii said. "These measures need to be incorporated across various sectors as a key component of development policy."

The participants in the Resilience Dialogue talked about how they would meet that challenge―through coordination, bridging humanitarian and development efforts, integrated approaches and by working together to turn the reaction versus prevention paradigm on its head.