Leaders meet to build a disaster prevention framework and miss the mark
Sitting in the comfort and safety afforded visitors to Washington DC, a group of international leaders gathered to discuss resilience among the disaster hotspots of the world. They discussed the countries that are the most vulnerable and require the most support from our more economically advantaged nations.
The meeting was a part of the World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual conference. Leaders from the United States, United Kingdom, United Nations, Japan and the European Union gathered to establish plans for international development funding.
Meetings like this are conducted in buildings that were constructed by a first-rate construction industry and supplied by a well established concrete supply chain. Hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of quality concrete surrounded them as they discussed the risks posed by natural disasters in the world’s poorest countries.
During the presentations the panel may have had the opportunity see images of the crumbling buildings of Haiti and Pakistan as they explored ideas for building more resilient development practices. Or they may have watched video of street after street filled with rubble, while they discussed promoting and protecting critical infrastructure and using sustainable economic initiatives to rebuild fragile nations.
We don’t exactly know what images and videos that were shared, but we do know that the stated goal was to coordinate international action and financing to build national and local resilience in disaster hotspots. We also know that this resilience will never be accomplished without making construction practices more sustainable, like they are in Washington DC. We know that they waste the world’s resources when they revisit a disaster hotspot to rebuild time and time again. And we know that there is a way to fix the problem.
We invest billions to assist these hotspots and sometimes we don’t use the most sustainable methods. The World Bank’s documents state:“Poor and middle-income countries suffer the most. A recent World Bank/UN report Natural Hazards, Natural Disasters: the economics of effective prevention calculates that storms, floods, earthquakes and droughts caused more than 3.3 million deaths and US$2.3 trillion in damage (in 2008 US dollars) between 1970 and 2010. Looking ahead, growing cities and a changing climate will shape disaster risks. The number of people exposed to storms and earthquakes in large cities could double to 1.5 billion by 2050. Much of this increase in exposure will be in Asia and the Pacific. Furthermore, by the turn of the century, even without climate change, damages from weather-related hazards are expected to triple to US$185 billion annually”.
If these targeted countries had improved concrete construction practices how many lives would be saved in a weather-related disaster? Wouldn’t we save billions in reconstruction costs if their buildings were more like those that house the World Bank in Washington DC? I would guess that in this meeting they probably didn’t consider how to fix the broken concrete supply chain in places like Haiti, Honduras and Pakistan.
They did set five 5 priorities for future work… Two stood out to us…
- Prioritize investments, which offer the highest value for money, namely, weather and climate information systems, strengthening early warning and emergency preparedness, linking these systems to triggers for early action, creating safety nets for vulnerable populations, utilizing disaster risk financing/insurance, promoting sustainable land management, protecting critical infrastructure and most importantly, strengthening national and local institutions.
- Support rapid and resilient recovery by coordinating action in post-disaster situations, in order to link and streamline the transition from relief to reconstruction and development..
We suggest that early warning systems might get people safely out of buildings, but the buildings will still fall down if they are made from bad concrete. We will save many lives, but will still spend billions of our resources to rebuilding the damage.
Why not spend money to avoid the risk to this property by building a stronger concrete supply system in these hotspots? Japan invested in a first-rate concrete construction process for many years and then weathered an earthquake disaster pretty well. Wouldn’t some work on better concrete be a resilient pre-disaster risk management strategy that would save billions in the long run?
One of the attendees, U.K. Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell has launched the new policy on resilient development. The policy outlines how the U.K. aims to help build resilience against disasters and the country’s priorities when responding to humanitarian crises. The policy commits the UK to building resilience in all countries where they work and recognizes the importance of anticipation, humanitarian leadership and innovation.
Anticipating the risks caused from poor concrete is pretty straight forward. If they continue to do the same processes, the buildings will continue to come crushing down. Until we innovate and find ways to prop up the building practices and make better concrete, we will just be waiting for the next pile of rubble to be created in one of these hotspots.
What would you suggest we do for more resilience?