Diverting Disaster - Helping the Poor Elude Nature's Wrath
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Diverting Disaster - Helping the Poor Elude Nature's Wrath

Extreme events like floods and earthquakes are inevitable - but the devastation that follows may not be. On March 16, 2004, Margaret Arnold, head of the World Bank's Hazard Management Unit, discussed what can be done to curb the devastation of natural disasters.

How to control and prevent communicable diseases during flood and after flood?
Margaret Arnold:
I think that preventing communicable diseases is an important area after floods and during floods. It is important to make sure that there are plans to get safe, potable water to the affected communities. Many times this comes up more in the relief stage which other Bank partners would get more involved, such as the Red Cross or other relief agencies that go in in the initial response period. And the World Bank support then comes in to try and quickly reestablish and repair any damage to water supply systems. For more specifics, it might be good to check the Pan American Health Organization which has done quite a bit of work in this area and you might want to look at their website for issues related to the health sector during and after disasters.
I recently read an article that dealt with the World Bank's role in solving the world water crisis. What kind of things does the World Bank actually do to help countries who now suffer from a lack of fresh water due to things such as floods and droughts? Thank you for your time.
Margaret Arnold:
The issue of water supply is a broader issue, but in terms of what the World Bank does to help countries dealing with floods and drought, we are quite active in that area. In particular, floods and droughts are actually two of the hazards that affect our borrowing countries most often, and we have in the past given large amounts to investment in projects for helping reconstruct and recover from flood and drought emergencies. We are trying also a more proactive approach to flood prevention and to drought prevention. For droughts, it can include things like diversifying crops and planting crops that are more drought resistant, and how rural communities can diversify their income when droughts do occur. For floods, we support both structural and nonstructural measures, structural in terms of dikes or planting mangroves for example in coastal areas that can help against storm and flood control. And nonstructural measures in terms of preparedness and public awareness and education. So there are a number of things we are doing in this area. There are a number of specific examples and I'll refer again to our website which is www.worldbank.org/hazards. We have all of the World Bank projects going on in all of our client countries related to disaster risk management listed there. So you can click on whatever country and find out what is going on in each country and project.
QUESTION 1 As part of the WB/ProVention applied research grant (047 IND) a project we did demonstrated considerable success in community based risk reduction through social marketing in Porbandar, India. Would you consider social marketing as a potential means of popularising/mainstreaming community based hazard risk management in other developing regions? QUESTION 2 Do you feel there is a need to mainstream Hazard Risk Management (HRM) in the PRSP process of the Bank? This would make HRM an integral part of national poverty reduction policies.
Margaret Arnold:
Yes, we think that social marketing is an important tool to raise awareness and educate the public on the importance of managing risk and in relation to the applied research grant program, we are planning events later this year to further disseminate the most promising projects within the grant program. So you will be hearing about that on the Porvention website and you will see where we are with things like that. Yes, we do feel the need to mainstream this and we're discussing this with management on how to systemize hazard risk management into the PRSP process. There are currently a number of PRSPs papers that do address the issue of hazard risk management rather well. If you want to see examples, they are all posted on our unit website. And we are working with countries on other ones that are particularly vulnerable to disaster to also deal with hazard risk management.
John Salter:
The move would have us believe it has been from hazard to risk - from vulnerability to resilience. How much of this is rhetoric? As a bottom line, given that disaster impacts are still rising do people need to assume that social protection measures are insufficient - and that thay therefore need to be more self reliant. Cheers - and good luck.
Margaret Arnold:
I don't think this is rhetoric. The Hazard Risk Management unit, which used to be called the Disaster Management Facility, has been working since 1998 to promote a pro-active approach to risk reduction and to helping countries recognize that disaster reduction is not a humanitarian issue but a development issue. We have been doing this in a number of ways that have been integrated into the World Development Report documents. There are a number of efforts being tried in countries that are working on more proactive approaches. So the momentum is building rather quickly and I'm very optimistic that this will be mainstreamed in the Bank just as some years ago as environment become mainstreamed. Issues relating to disaster management will also be an an integral part of what the World Bank does in terms of development.
Gérard Madodo- Burundi:
1. Quelle approche l'Unité de gestion des catastrophes de la BM pourrait emprunter pour atteindre les plus vulnérables? l'expérience montre que les autorités n'insrivent pas dans les priorités nationales la prévention/réduction des risques dus aux catastrophes. English translation (done by World Bank): What approach can the disaster management unit of the World Bank adopt to reach the most vulnerable? Experience shows that governments do not make prevention/risk reduction from natural disasters part of their priorities.
Margaret Arnold:
That is good question because it is the very poor that are most severely impacted by disaster in our clients countries, that is a priority for us. What we trying to do in terms of disaster risk reduction is address it at all levels so to make sure that the government itself takes this on as a priority but also to work at the local and community level to have communities build capacity for disaster risk reduction. Some examples are a project in India that is including disaster risk reduction in education material for elementary school children. We have activity that is are looking at how cofinancing and insurance can help poor communities better respond and not have all of their assets wiped out by disaster because many of these communities are wiped out quite often by very small events that don't register on the national or global media scene. They can be wiped out by very small events. So we are trying to work at all levels to help the most vulnerable.
Tauheed Ahmed:
I am an ex-Bank Staff member and over the past three years have been working as consultant in the field of emergency management (both hazard management and business continuity). This is my question: Has your department prepared any publicly available material on (a) preventive steps (e.g. building codes, workplace safety) and (b) emergency procedures in response to various kinds of emergencies? Are there any copyrights attached to this material or can it be freely used by consultants in this business? Thanks. Tauheed Ahmed
Margaret Arnold:
We don't have many materials on the relief side of things, but we do have a number of resources for the types of responses that the World Bank does. Everything that we use, and our unit has is constantly developing tools for both Bank staff and our client countries, everything that we produce is on our website which is www.worldbank.org/hazards. Also, there is a partnership program we are part of, Provention, at www.provention.org. There are a number of resources on that website as well. The types of materials include things like building codes for hospitals and to help make them more accessible. A manuals for conducting need assessments. Terms of reference for your response to go out and help assess damages. So there are a number of resources available and there are other things under development.
Ramesh Deshpande:
Do we (as a Bank) have a recent assessment in place of the borrower countries' efforts to establish disaster relief policies and programs? What role the Bank plays or plans to play in accelerating this effort? Is the work on disaster relief mainstreamed by providing this topic the required priroity in CAS?
Margaret Arnold:
The Bank has not assessed every single borrowing country in terms of their effort to establish disaster relief programs, but we have done assessments in some of our clients countries. We are encouraging them through those assessments to build their capacity for more effective risk reduction and also disaster response programs. We do consider it a priority for the countries assistance strategy. I think I mentioned in another answer that we are working to institutionalize this effort and make hazard risk management an integral part of the PRSP process.
Gérard Madodo- Burundi:
Merci pour l'initiative de lancer un débat sur la nécessité de prévenir les catastrophes, mais il faut que les bureaux de la BM au niveau des pays font un relais pour que les autorités à tous les niveaux prennent conscience du problème. English translation (done by World Bank) Thanks for taking the initiative to launch a discussion on the necessity of preventing disaster, but the offices of the World Bank at the country level should play a role so that the authorities/governments at all levels take notice of the problem.
Margaret Arnold:
The Hazard Management Unit is an anchor unit in the World Bank which provides technical support to all of our offices on the topic of hazard risk reduction. We work very closely with our country offices to do specific analysis in country assessments of government capacity for risk reduction and how to advance the agenda of disaster management in those countries. So we work very closely with a number of country offices. The most active regions I would say in the bank are in Latin America and Caribbean and in East Asian and the Pacific, and also in Central Asia; there are a number of other regions and countries becoming active in this area. So it is an area building momentum in the bank and will only increase in the future.
Ernest Mothabi:
Hi there is the World Bank providing funds to countries that have suffered such natural disasters such as Iran?
Margaret Arnold:
Yes, the Bank does provides funds to countries that have suffered disaster, such as Iran, and we are providing for that. In fact, we currently have two projects in place because Iran suffered another earthquake a couple of years ago so we have another project and certainly, helping them develop a reconstruction strategy for the most recent earthquake. Since 1980, the Bank has provided more than 40 billion dollars in loans for disaster related projects. That included projects that are helping reconstruct from disasters and more general disaster prevention. So it is an important part of the Bank's interventions in countries and we consider it very important part of our reconstruction effort.
sai prakash:
Is there any established system for handling disasters after they have struck all too suddenly, like Earth Quake. How much time does it take to put a) An alternate communication system in place b) Organise reliefs in terms of food and medical aid. In case of floods and typhoons etc, where some notice is available, what is the perido of advance notice needed to prepare for contingency plans. What has been the experience in Jamaica and in Virginia Beach etc in N America ?
Margaret Arnold:
I think it is important to note that the World Bank as a development organization does not get most involved in the relief side of disaster funds. The Bank tends to come in a little bit later with reconstruction. However we assist countries in building for emergency response so that Governments and local agencies are prepared to respond and provide early warnings.
Ozlem Albayrak:
Living in a country, Turkey, that is open to many types of natural disasters, I work on software projects that are aimed to be utilized for disaster and emergency management. Do you have a measure of effectiveness of disaster management information systems? Obviously, such software systems cannot prevent natural disasters to happen, yet they can minimize the bad effects of the disasters. Thanks in advance. Dr. Ozlem Albayrak
Margaret Arnold:
We do not currently have a standard instrument to measure effectiveness of information systems. I mentioned before that we do assess countries' capacity for managing hazard risk in general. And we are actually working with a number of partners on how to develop instruments for assessing the cost and benefit of investment and mitigations, and measure and those type of mechanisms. So it important for to us be able to -- it is important for to us be able to put numbers on the value of disaster prevention because it helps us to justify and make the case to both to our colleagues working in the country offices and to our clients countries and borrowing government, that can prove the point that it is much cheaper for them to invest in prevention than waiting until after the disaster and responding.
Lekha Ratnayake:
We talk about response after the disaster, but a lot of damage can be avoided if we plan before a disaster. What type of measures you have for developing countries in Asia for disaster preparedness
Margaret Arnold:
The World Bank is becoming more active in countries in Asia for disaster prevention and preparedness. In the past, the World Bank has traditionally been more helping with reconstruction after the fact. In the past five to ten years or so that we are trying to focus more on disaster prevention and reduction as an integral component of development efforts. So in Asia for example, some of the projects we are working on are the strategy for East Asia and Pacific region to identify countries that are ready with more proactive plans. We are doing country analysis in the Philippines and Cambodia to identify how those countries can strengthen their capacity for risk reduction. We also have a project in Vietnam. There are a number of efforts in Asia and other regions as well that are pursuing pro-active ways to plan for disaster and to integrate risk reduction into our normal development activities.
Lolo Mkhabela:
Poverty levels, particularly in less developed countries are at the core of communities exposed to a variety of vulnerabilities, be they HIV/AIDS, drought, floods etc. Perceptions of what constitutes risks are not as obvious to these comunities. How does one assist such communities realise that their current livelihoods compromise the future in a situation where choices are not available to them.
Margaret Arnold:
You certainly right that poor communities are facing many, many types of risks of which natural hazards is one. And I think that natural disasters have often not been at the top of their list because many people tend to think of it as an act of God that they can't control, not realizing particularly in poor communities there are inexpensive small steps you can take to build more safely or build in safer areas. Often times poor communities are forced into more vulnerable areas such as river beds and dangerous slopes that become deforested from people building on them. So it is important to understand the role of education and awareness in making sure communities understand what risks they are facing and how they can reduce those risks to protect their livelihoods. I think in the aftermath of disasters, they certainly understand how their livelihoods are affected very directly but we need help support them to take measures prior to any disaster happening.
Manuel LLuberas:
What is the Bank's position with respect to insect-related problems in the aftermath of emergencies and disasters?
Margaret Arnold:
The World Bank has had projects in the past that have helped countries respond to insect and locusts and other insect infestation. They have mainly been in Sub-Saharan Africa, so we do consider that part of our mandate in terms of managing natural hazards and while other natural hazard have occupied more of our time because they do occur more frequently, we certainly deal with that as well.

Thank you for participating in the discussion. For further reading, here are some of the resources Margaret Arnold mentioned in the discussion:


Senior Social Development Specialist