Weather-Related Loss & Damage Rising as Climate Warms

November 18, 2013


A building ruined by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock

  • Weather-related losses and damage have risen from an annual average of about $50 billion in the 1980s to close to $200 billion over the last decade, according to the Munich Re insurance group.
  • A new report highlights the World Bank’s experiences from decades of work in weather-related disaster risk management and climate resilience.
  • Disasters strike rich and poor countries alike but some island nations and the poorest nations in Africa and Asia are among the most vulnerable.

In 1999, a Category 5 cyclone devastated the state of Odisha in India, leaving 10,000 people dead and causing $4.5 billion in damages. Fourteen years later, Phailin, another monster storm almost as strong, hit the same stretch of the state – except this time with a very different outcome:  Fewer than 40 people were killed and economic losses were about $700 million.

The reason for this dramatic turnaround was years of disaster risk prevention and preparedness resulting in a concerted effort by the state to build resilience against extreme weather. Early warning systems and annual storm drills in close cooperation with local communities were part of that effort.

Odisha also invested in new cyclone shelters, evacuation routes and strengthening coastal embankments – all of which helped the state execute a well-defined disaster prevention and preparedness plan during a time of crisis. It earned Odisha widespread accolades, with one United Nations official calling the state’s handling of the cyclone “a landmark success story in disaster risk management.”

As the world has witnessed in the last week, there is sometimes little any government can do to prepare for record storms such as the typhoon that devastated parts of the Philippines – short of trying to evacuate as many people as possible to safety.

We must, however, continue to share experiences from this and other tragedies in a warming world where storms are likely to become fiercer.

A new report from the World Bank released today shares experiences such as those from India. Titled Building Resilience: Integrating Climate and Disaster Risk into Development, the report highlights good practices and innovative solutions for protecting lives and livelihoods, and for decreasing losses and damages to private property and critical infrastructure.

It shows that weather-related financial losses are concentrated in fast-growing, middle-income countries because such countries have increasingly high-value assets that are also becoming more exposed. The average impact of disasters in such nations equaled 1 percent of gross domestic product between 2001 and 2006 – ten times higher than the average for high-income countries.

The report also shows that weather-related disasters are most crippling for smaller and lower-income countries that are least able to cope.

" At the World Bank Group, we are putting disaster risk management at the forefront of our agenda. We know there is a lot we can – and must - do to reduce the impact of disasters. The devastation and human tragedy we see in the Philippines now is a stark reminder of the challenges ahead, and it strengthens our resolve. "
Rachel Kyte, Vice President of Sustainable Development, The World Bank

Rachel Kyte

Vice President of Sustainable Development, The World Bank

Hurricane Tomas, for example, devastated St. Lucia in 2010, wiping out the equivalent of 43 percent of the Caribbean nation’s GDP. In the Horn of Africa, a prolonged drought that ended in 2011 and which, at its peak, left 13.3 million people with food shortages, caused total losses of $12.1 billion in Kenya alone.

“This was a much needed and timely effort to collect the practical knowledge that has been scattered with experts for decades,” said Habiba Gitay, a senior environmental specialist with the World Bank and co-author of the report. “We hope that the good practices we highlighted from across the world will help countries learn from each other, and make them more capable of withstanding catastrophic weather events.”

The report’s main messages:

  • Building climate resilience is essential to the global goals of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. Working across disciplines and sectors to build long-term resilience, and to reduce risk and avoid increasing future losses, is critical.
  • Climate and disaster-resilient development is the logical way forward, but there are upfront costs that could be as much as 50 percent higher. Such investments will, however, pay off in the long-run.
  • The Bank has significant experience with helping nations build resilience against weather-related disasters, but we must better integrate climate resilience approaches and disaster risk management. By amassing our experience and working collaboratively, we can take the actions needed to manage these risks.

“At the World Bank Group, we are putting disaster risk management at the forefront of our agenda,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s vice president of sustainable development. “We know there is a lot we can – and must - do to reduce the impact of disasters. The devastation and human tragedy we see in the Philippines now is a stark reminder of the challenges ahead, and it strengthens our resolve.”

The Bank’s disaster risk management portfolio is growing rapidly, with two out of every three dollars invested now focused on prevention and preparedness.

Using a variety of financial instruments, knowledge products and tools, the Bank has so far helped about 80 countries better prepare and respond to disaster. This work is being spearheaded by various teams with support from the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery and the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience.

“We need to invest now for a safer future tomorrow,” said Sofia Bettencourt, a lead adaptation specialist at GFDRR. “We hope this report will bring together disaster risk management and climate adaptation experts to help save lives and livelihoods in coming years.”