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Reducing Disaster Risks from Natural Hazards

Chapter 1 | Background and Context

Disasters caused by natural hazards are increasingly threatening the lives and livelihoods of poor populations, especially those who are disadvantaged and marginalized. Disasters resulting from natural hazards cause an average of about $300 billion in annual damages, costs that are rising due to population growth, rapid and unplanned urbanization, low-quality infrastructure, and ineffective disaster risk governance (Hallegatte et al. 2017). Disasters from natural hazards result in civilian deaths and massive displacement and are responsible for increasing global poverty. The World Bank has reported that 82 percent of all deaths since 1970 that were caused by weather, climate, and water hazards occurred in low- and lower-middle-
income countries, where most poor populations reside (World Bank 2020c). Disasters especially affect poor populations, who typically reside in areas with higher exposure, lose larger shares of their wealth to disasters, and have limited assets and access to support systems for coping and long-term recovery (Hallegatte et al. 2017). Marginalized and disadvantaged people—including women and girls, children and youth, persons with disabilities, and the elderly—are most susceptible to disaster risks because they are among the least endowed and most disconnected from support systems for coping and recovery.

Climate change is further exacerbating the negative impacts of disasters caused by natural hazards. Approximately twice as many climate-related disasters occurred between 2000 and 2019 compared with the period between 1980 and 1999 (UNDRR 2020a). Rising sea levels increase the likelihood and intensity of flooding, threatening 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets, while projections forecast increased drought events (GFDRR 2016). Mitigating the risks of these disasters is essential for climate change adaptation and building the resilience of at-risk communities (UNDRR 2020b).

This evaluation focuses on the World Bank’s support for reducing disaster risks caused by natural hazards. Disaster risk reduction (DRR), as defined by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, “aims to prevent new—and reduce existing—disaster risk while managing residual risk, all of which contribute to strengthening resilience to achieve sustainable development” (UNDRR 2016). According to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030, DRR practices are multihazard and multisectoral: they address disaster risks caused by natural, environmental, technological, and biological hazards. This evaluation focuses on one aspect of DRR—that is, efforts to reduce disaster risks caused by natural hazards. To assess this aspect of disaster risk, the evaluation uses universally accepted terminology associated with efforts to minimize exposure and vulnerability, in addition to other activities that can limit the negative effects of disasters caused by natural hazards. “Exposure” is the situation of people, infrastructure, housing, production capacities, and other tangible and intangible (for example, cultural) assets located in hazard-prone areas, whereas “vulnerability” refers to the conditions determined by physical, social, economic, and environmental factors or processes that increase the susceptibility of an individual, a community, assets, or systems to the impacts of hazards (UNDRR 2016).

Investing in DRR has strong economic and social benefits and is essential for achieving climate change adaptation. Resilient infrastructure investments have a present value of $4 return on each dollar invested (Hallegatte, Rentschler, and Rozenberg 2019). When countries rebuild infrastructure after disasters to be more resilient, they can reduce the negative impact of future disasters on livelihoods and well-being by as much as 31 percent (Hallegatte, Rentschler, and Walsh 2018). Meanwhile, universal access to an early-warning system (EWS) can reduce asset and well-being losses from disasters by an estimated $35 billion per year (Hallegatte et al. 2017). EWSs and other disaster risk measures also contribute to a decrease in mortality due to disasters (UNDRR 2019b). Expanding DRR plays a central role in achieving the World Bank’s goals for climate change adaptation and resilience, as laid out in its Climate Change Action Plan 2021–2025 (World Bank 2021a).

Underinvestment in DRR—particularly in disaster risk mitigation and preparedness—remains an issue globally despite DRR’s documented benefits. Only 4.1 percent of total official development assistance for disasters was directed toward disaster prevention and preparedness activities between 2010 and 2019 (UNDRR 2021). This is due in part to countries lacking sufficient resources to invest in DRR and having limited knowledge of disaster risks and vulnerabilities. Some governments also tend to prefer politically visible post-disaster (rather than predisaster) measures. Similarly, more international development assistance funds have been available for disaster response and recovery than for DRR (Keefer 2009; Tanner, Bahadur, and Moench 2017; Wilkinson 2012; World Bank 2013b).

Purpose and Scope of the Evaluation

The purpose of this evaluation is to surface lessons on the World Bank’s support for DRR. The evaluation focused on World Bank support to address disaster risks caused by natural hazards, not on other types of hazards or stresses. It covers disaster risks caused by floods, droughts, earthquakes, cyclones, volcanic disruptions, tsunamis, and landslides. Areas of DRR support covered include risk identification; risk reduction activities, such as resilient infrastructure, buildings, and protective works; the integration of DRR into institutions, policy, and planning; preparedness activities, including support for EWSs and community approaches; and the offering of financial protection through disaster risk finance. These areas are shown in figure 1.1 (the dark-gray quarters). The evaluation does not cover elements of disaster response and recovery that lack DRR activities (the light-green activities in figure 1.1). There were 634 World Bank lending projects and 504 advisory and analytical products with DRR aims.

The evaluation includes World Bank support for DRR between 2010 and 2020. It does not cover International Finance Corporation or Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency activities because DRR is not a major corporate priority for either group.

Figure 1.1. Evaluation Scope

The figure shows that the evaluation includes disaster mitigation, preparedness, and resilient reconstruction aspects of disaster recovery, but does not include disaster response.

Figure 1.1. Evaluation Scope

Source: Independent Evaluation Group, using globally accepted phases of disaster (for example, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction).

Note: Activities are illustrative examples (not exhaustive). DRR = disaster risk reduction; NRM = natural resource management; WRM = water resource management.

Evaluation Questions and Methods

This evaluation answers the following two questions: (i) Has the World Bank’s support for DRR been relevant, and what factors have facilitated or limited the relevance of this support? (ii) How effectively has the World Bank supported DRR, and what factors explain this effectiveness?

To answer the first evaluation question, the team assessed three aspects of relevance regarding the World Bank’s support for DRR. First, the team conducted a global natural hazard analysis to assess whether the World Bank has engaged in those places where different hazard types pose, or are likely to pose, serious threats. Second, the evaluation assesses the degree to which the World Bank has evolved its approach to DRR in line with good practices. Third, the evaluation team conducted country case studies that identify lessons on client engagement to determine what works to raise awareness and undertake DRR actions in client countries.

To answer the second evaluation question, the team assessed three aspects of effectiveness regarding the World Bank’s support for DRR. First, the evaluation team conducted a monitoring and evaluation analysis to identify how the DRR project portfolio articulates and captures DRR results and outcomes. Within the portfolio, the evaluation team also assessed how projects identify, address, and track results for groups disproportionately vulnerable to disasters. Second, the evaluation team assessed results and generated lessons on factors of effectiveness for four key activities in the portfolio: resilient infrastructure, EWSs, disaster insurance, and DRR policy reforms. Third, the evaluation team conducted a success case analysis whereby it identified and drew lessons from instances in which World Bank DRR activities have achieved highly successful results.