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Disasters

Forest fires: need for rethinking management strategies

Dr. H. S. Suresh's picture

Earth’s landscape has been subjected to both natural and anthropogenic fires for millions of years.

Natural, lightning-caused fires are known to have occurred in geological time continuously at least since the late Silurian epoch, 400 million years ago, and have shaped the evolution of plant communities.

Hominids have used controlled fire as a tool to transform the landscape since about 700,000 years ago. These hominids were Homo erectus, ancestors of modern humans. Paleofire scientists, biogeographers and anthropologists all agree that hominid use of fire for various purposes has extensively transformed the vegetation of Earth over this period.
 

Dry season ground fire in Mudumalai.  Photo Credit: Dr. H. S. Suresh

The nature of Earth’s modern-day biomes would be substantially different if there had been no fires at all. William Bond and colleagues (2005) used a Dynamic Global Vegetation Model to simulate the area under closed forest with and without fire. They estimated that in the absence of fire, the area of closed forest would double from the present 27% to 56% of present vegetated area, with corresponding increase in biomass and carbon stocks. This would be at the expense of C4 grasslands and certain types of shrub-land in cooler climates.

Can the rubble of history help shape today’s resilient cities?

David Sislen's picture
Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Ruins of the Church of Saint Paul, following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that, in 1755, Portugal suffered a catastrophic disaster so severe that it cast a long shadow over politics, religion, philosophy, and science?

During an All Saints’ Day mass in Lisbon in that fateful year, an 8.5-magnitude earthquake collapsed cathedrals, triggered a 20-foot tsunami, and sparked devastating fires that destroyed nearly 70% of the city’s 23,000 buildings.

The death toll was estimated between 10,000-50,000, leaving the center of a global empire in ruins, with losses equivalent to 32%-48% of Portugal's GDP at the time.

Never in the European history had a natural disaster received such international attention.

The “Great Lisbon Earthquake” had a resounding impact across Europe: Depictions of the earthquake in art and literature – the equivalent of today’s mass media – were reproduced for centuries and across several countries. Rousseau, influenced by the devastation, argued against large and dense cities in the wake of the disaster, while Immanuel Kant published three separate texts on the disaster, becoming one of the first thinkers to attempt to explain earthquakes by natural, rather than supernatural, causes.

In the years to follow, careful studies of the event would give rise to modern seismology.

Climate-smart agriculture is “common-sense agriculture”

Martien van Nieuwkoop's picture
 Neil Palmer / CIAT
Climate-smart agriculture profiles for Bhutan, Pakistan and Nepal provide an important step forward in creating a sustainable food system in South Asia. Photo: Neil Palmer / CIAT


According to a recent study published in Science Advances, climate change is projected to hit South Asia especially hard.
 
Impacts will be particularly intense in the food and agriculture sector. A region inhabited by about one-fifth of the world’s people, South Asia and its densely populated agricultural areas face unique and severe natural hazards. Its food system is particularly vulnerable. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA)-- which is an integrated approach to managing landscapes that is focused on increasing agricultural productivity, improving resilience to climate change, and reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions—is part of the solution.
 
The World Bank is working to mainstream climate smart agriculture in South Asia with a series of Climate-Smart Agriculture or “CSA” Country Profiles for Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, that were launched recently in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders. The findings in the profiles are specific to national contexts, but there is a common thread.  We learned that for South Asia, climate change adaptation and mitigation pose major challenges and opportunities for agriculture sector investment and growth.  
 
The farmers, Government representatives and other stakeholders I met during the CSA Country Profile launches expressed huge interest in learning how they can put CSA into practice.  Farmers especially were interested in making CSA part of their daily farming routines.  As interest grows, so does momentum to take the CSA agenda forward, from research institutions and high level gatherings into farmer’s fields. As one farmer I met in Pakistan said, “Climate-smart agriculture is Common-sense agriculture.
 
Pakistan
 
Climate change is already impacting Pakistan, which often experiences periods of severe droughts, followed by devastating floods. In the aftermath of the 2010 floods, one fifth of the country’s land area was submerged, damaging the economy, infrastructure and livelihoods, and leaving 90 million people without proper access to food. Moving forward, changes in monsoons and increased temperatures will further challenge the agricultural sector, particularly northern Pakistan where vulnerability to climate change is already high.
 
At the same time, CSA offers attractive opportunities for strengthening Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Innovative, technological practices like laser land leveling and solar powered irrigation systems and management changes like crop diversification, proper cropping patterns and optimized planting dates could put Pakistan’s food system onto a more climate-smart path. Investments in research to develop high-yielding, heat-resistant, drought-tolerant, and pest-resistant crop varieties as well as livestock breeds could also make a difference.

Let’s make a deal for resilient cities

Carina Lakovits's picture
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
JIANGXI CHINA-July 1, 2017: In Eastern China, Jiujiang was hit by heavy rain, and many urban areas were flooded. The vehicles were flooded, and the citizens risked their passage on flooded roads.
Photo credit: humphery / Shutterstock.com
For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Although cities hold the promise of a better future, the reality is that many cities cannot live up to expectations. Too often, cities lack the resources to provide even the most basic services to their inhabitants, and cities all over the world fail to protect their people effectively against the onslaught of natural disasters or climate change.

Much of this has to do with the lack of adequate infrastructure that can defend against the impacts of floods, sea level rise, landslides or earthquakes. Most cities need better flood defenses, better constructed houses, and better land use planning. But even when cities know what it takes to become more resilient, most often they do not have access to the necessary funding to realize this vision.

It is estimated that worldwide, investments of more than $4 trillion per year in urban infrastructure will be needed merely to keep pace with expected economic growth, and an additional $1 trillion will be needed to make this urban infrastructure climate resilient.  It is clear that the public sector alone, including development finance institutions like the World Bank, will not be able to generate these amounts—not by a long stretch.

Mexico’s National Forest Fire Management Program

Alfredo Nolasco Morales's picture

On November 1-3, India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the World Bank organized a workshop in Delhi to discuss forest fire prevention and management.  The workshop brought together fire experts and practitioners from eight countries along with Indian government officials from the ministry and the state forest departments, as well as representatives from academia and civil society.  One of the participating countries, Mexico, has recently transformed its national policy on forest fires. Alfredo Nolasco Morales, Wildland Fire Protection Manager at Mexico’s National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) shared his insights on what this transformation has meant for Mexico, how it was achieved, and how it may serve as an inspiration for India as the Indian government prepares a new national action plan for forest fires.
 
Mexico’s forest fire program has operated for more than 70 years. On average, 7,500 fires occur each year, affecting 300,000 hectares of pasture, scrubland, forest, and regrowth. Recently, however, the country has experienced some especially bad years, including in 2017, when fires burned 715,714 hectares and killed 12 people. Extreme climatic conditions and the accumulation of fuels such as dry leaves, twigs, grasses, dead trees, and fallen timber have contributed to especially severe fire seasons.



Until 2012, Mexico’s national forest fire program focused on the complete suppression of fires by contracting helicopters to douse the flames. State forest fire programs were weak and there was little institutional coordination.

When cyclones strike: Using mangroves to protect coastal areas

Susmita Dasgupta's picture

Massive flooding from storm surges is a major threat to lives and property in low-lying coastal areas during cyclones. Recent examples of devastating cyclone-induced storm surges include Haiyan 2013 (5.2m or 17 feet), Aila 2009 (4m/13ft), Ike 2008 (4.5m-6m/15-20 feet), Nargis 2008 (more than 3m/10ft), Sidr 2007 (4m /13ft), Katrina 2005 (7.6m-8.5m/25-28 feet). The impacts are particularly disastrous when storm surges strike densely populated coastal areas.

Lessons From Mapping Geeks: How Aerial Technology is Helping Pacific Island Countries Recover From Natural Disasters.

Michael Bonte-Grapentin's picture

For many Pacific Island countries, natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunamis, are an all-too common occurrence. Out of the top 15 most at-risk countries for natural disasters globally, four are Pacific Island countries, and Vanuatu is consistently at the top.

In 2015, Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, and knowing the extent of damage was vital for the government to identify and plan reconstruction needs. A team of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) experts were sent out to quickly establish credible estimates of the damages and losses. Many damage reports were already available from the field, but with varying quality, and the challenge was to consolidate and verify them, within a very tight timeframe. Cloud cover also prevented us from getting satellite images, so we mobilized two UAV teams to fly below the clouds and capture high-resolution footage showing the impacts on the ground in the worst affected islands in Tafea and Shefa province.

Challenges continued throughout, from needing to coordinate airspace with those flying relief goods into affected areas, to transferring massive datasets over low internet bandwidths. But with team-effort and ingenuity, solutions were found; the UAV teams were able to capture valuable damage footage within sampled areas during the day, which were analysed overnight by volunteers of the Humanitarian Open Street Map (HOT) and the Digital Humanitarian Network; new workflows were developed to collate the data and to feed the outputs into the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment.   
 

Interpreted damage information post-Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, 2014: red – destroyed houses, orange – partially damaged houses, blue – no obvious damage to house.

The Roadmap for Safer Schools—a conversation on making school infrastructure more resilient to natural disasters

Fernando Ramírez's picture
Global Program for Safer Schools

Imagine that you are an advisor to your country's Minister of Education. A recent earthquake damaged hundreds of schools in several cities. The minister has called for a meeting with you and asked: What are the main factors that contribute to the vulnerability of our school infrastructure? What can be done to prevent similar damages in the future?

So… What would you advise?

In search of answers, we spoke with the leaders of the World Bank’s Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS), who have recently launched an innovative tool, the Roadmap for Safer Schools. This roadmap is a guide to design and implement systematic actions to improve the safety and resilience of school infrastructure at risk from natural hazards. 

 

Resilient transport investments: a climate imperative for Small Island Developing Countries

Franz Drees-Gross's picture


Transport in its many forms – from tuk-tuks in Thailand to futuristic self-driving electric cars – is ubiquitous in the lives of everyone on the planet. For that reason, it is often taken for granted – unless we are caught in congestion, or more dramatically, if the water truck fails to arrive at a drought-stricken community in Africa.

It is easy to forget that transport is a crucial part of the global economy. Overall, countries invest between $1.4 to $2.1 trillion per year in transport infrastructure to meet the world’s demand for mobility and connectivity. Efficient transport systems move goods and services, connect people to economic opportunities, and enable access to essential services like healthcare and education. Transport is a fundamental enabler to achieving almost all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is crucial to meet the objectives under the Paris agreement of limiting global warming to less than 2°C by 2100, and make best efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

But all of this depends on well-functioning transport systems. With the effects of climate change, in many countries this assumption is becoming less of a given. The impact of extreme natural events on transport—itself a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions—often serve as an abrupt reminder of how central it is, both for urgent response needs such as evacuating people and getting emergency services where they are needed, but also for longer term economic recovery, often impaired by destroyed infrastructure and lost livelihoods. A country that loses its transport infrastructure cannot respond effectively to climate change impacts.

Making homes safer to build resilient cities

Kristina Wienhoefer's picture

Children are often told that home is where to run inside when thunders hit or when the rain comes, and that home is a safe place. However, for billions of people in the world, it is not.
 
By 2030, it is estimated that 3 billion people will be at risk of losing a loved one or their homes—usually their most important assets—to natural disasters. In fact, the population living on flood plains or cyclone-prone coastlines is growing twice as faster as the population in safe homes in safer areas.
 
Due to climate change, extreme weather and other natural hazard events hit these populations harder and more often. The 10 natural disasters causing the most property damages and losses in history have occurred since 2005. The damages and losses were highly concentrated in the housing sector. While the poor experience 11% of total of asset losses, they suffer 47% of all the well-being losses. Worse, natural disasters can lead to unnecessary losses of life, with earthquakes alone causing 44,585 deaths on average per year. This is an issue that policymakers and mayors need to address if they don’t want their achievements in poverty reduction to be erased by the next hurricane or earthquake.

World Bank Group


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