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Reducing Disaster Risks from Natural Hazards

Chapter 3 | Building Country Engagement on Disaster Risk Reduction

Influencing countries to undertake disaster risk reduction (DRR) is challenging due to the intangible and long-term nature of the benefits of DRR.

Rigorous analytical work that quantifies risks, assesses costs and benefits, and communicates impacts has influenced clients to undertake DRR actions. Much of this analytical work has been funded by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.

Targeting the right actors and levels of government has been an important factor in the World Bank’s ability to catalyze DRR action. When the World Bank has primarily targeted disaster agencies, progress on risk reduction investments or legislative change has been slow, whereas progress has occurred more quickly when the World Bank has targeted ministries of finance or planning or critical line ministries.

The World Bank’s support for disaster reconstruction has been an important entry point for engaging on DRR, as have the trust earned and relationships forged through sustained sector engagements.

In small island developing states, important elements for enabling DRR involve tackling thin capacity, donor fragmentation, high transaction costs, and implementation difficulties. DRR engagements in fragility, conflict, and violence contexts have addressed disaster vulnerability but missed opportunities to address drivers of conflict and issues of social fragility.

This chapter provides lessons on what has worked and what has not in the World Bank’s efforts to influence clients to undertake DRR. Despite the economic and social rationale for DRR, underinvestment in DRR has persisted in many countries (UNDRR 2015; World Bank 2013b). Nevertheless, the World Bank has often sought to influence clients to undertake DRR, especially by using its upstream advisory and analytical work and policy dialogue. What has made these efforts successful? The evaluation answered this question with an explanatory case method using 10 country studies. (See appendix A for methods details; see also appendix B, “Country Case Study Summaries.”)

Influencing countries to undertake DRR faces particular challenges due to the intangible and long-term nature of DRR benefits. DRR activities involve investing today to benefit from reduced negative impacts from disasters tomorrow. These benefits are intangible and probabilistic, depending on the timing and magnitude of future hazard events. Many DRR investments do not have a direct financial return. Countries lack resources to invest in DRR and have a limited understanding of disaster risks and vulnerabilities, and their governments tend to favor politically visible post-disaster (rather than predisaster) measures.

Role of Nonlending

Rigorous analytical work that quantifies risks, assesses costs and benefits, and communicates impacts has played a central role in convincing key actors to undertake priority DRR activities. Analytical work that quantifies the magnitude and likelihood of future economic and fiscal costs of disasters has raised governments’ awareness of the importance of and economic rationale for DRR and contributed to their decisions to prioritize DRR investments and policy measures. Laying out the cost-effectiveness of spending up front to make infrastructure resilient to reduce future repair and reconstruction costs has helped persuade governments to pay this additional cost. Presenting data in a compelling way, such as quantifying the number of at-risk students and teachers in nonresilient classrooms, has shown that DRR can be a credible political proposition. Quantifying risk across sectors has enabled governments to set priorities and address critical risks first. For example, in Brazil, a flood damage and loss assessment for the state of Santa Catarina conducted risk profiling for resilience planning and produced municipal-level flood maps to identify flood asset exposure risks. This assessment helped convince the state government to include DRR in its operations and decision-making processes. In Manila, the Philippines, the World Bank used risk modeling and three-dimensional simulations of flood event scenarios to engage the central government and convince mayors to pursue transboundary flood management. In Mozambique, analytical work on the cost of disasters and likely increases due to climate change made a financial and fiscal case for DRR and showed the finance ministry that the lack of DRR was hampering development by requiring scarce public funds to be used for reconstruction rather than new investment. In interviews, stakeholders identified several aspects of good practice, including (i) making use of existing studies, (ii) engaging within existing data systems, (iii) communicating data and key messages in accessible ways, and (iv) ensuring that data underlying analysis are shared with government.

World Bank DRR analytics carried out in a consultative manner with governments have provided the detailed technical knowledge needed for investment and policy engagements while also enabling ownership and uptake. Analytical work on DRR has often facilitated investment or policy programs by not only identifying actions to take based on best practices but also building familiarity and capacity with technical partners. Technical assistance provided to governments has brought in international expertise in ways that have enabled governments to develop their own fit-for-purpose DRR strategies, improving ownership in the process. For example, in Brazil, the World Bank’s state-level agricultural risk assessments underlay the integration of drought risk management concerns in sector projects. In Kerala, India, exhaustive ASA was undertaken on policy, institutional, and legislative reforms to inform the development of the Rebuild Kerala Development Programme, the government’s flagship road map for resilience. World Bank experts provided advice and feedback on the government-led report, then supported its adoption through a programmatic DPO series.

Much of this DRR analytical work would not have been undertaken without grant financing, especially that provided through GFDRR, and these grants have helped fill gaps in country skills with international expertise. Countries are often reluctant to borrow for DRR-related technical assistance or analytics or to spend their own resources on expensive international consultants. However, DRR is a relatively new agenda in many client countries, and countries’ civil services personnel often lack the necessary skills to introduce international best practices. Grant financing, then, is critical to provide the necessary analytical foundation for DRR. GFDRR has been critical because of the scale of its support, the depth of its own technical contributions, and its ability to commit to long-term programs of analytics. In the Philippines, grant financing was crucial for undertaking preparatory work for raising awareness, building capacity, and creating client demand. Many interviewees credited trust funds with enabling the World Bank’s extensive DRR engagement because these funds provide sustained resources to allow uninterrupted support. In Romania, the government’s ability to access European Union grants to procure reimbursable advisory services was critical for enabling the preparation of a seismic risk reduction strategy and flood management plans. The reimbursable advisory services compensate for gaps in civil service capacity. Two cautions are worth noting: First, grant-based technical assistance may be inefficient and ineffective if it exceeds client absorptive capacity. In the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), stakeholders expressed concern that there had been an overload of DRM analytics and technical assistance in recent years, driven by easy access to trust-funded grants, and that the analytics and assistance may have exceeded clients’ capacity to make use of it or investment programs to operationalize it. Second, the constrained envelope for grant financing raises the question of whether advanced engagements could be weaned off of grant financing to allow this financing to be directed to other critical work.

Strategic Engagement

Targeting and engaging the right actors and levels of government have been important factors in the World Bank’s ability to catalyze DRR investments or major policy reforms. Disaster agencies often have insufficient resources, capacity, or influence to enable DRR investments or actions at scale. Consequently, in countries where the World Bank has been successful in influencing clients to undertake DRR, it has strategically targeted central ministries with the power to influence agendas, such as finance and planning ministries, or critical line agencies with the mandate and capacity to undertake investment. For example, in the state of Bihar in India, the World Bank’s engagement on flood risk reduction was successful because it primarily engaged the Water Resources Department rather than the Disaster Management Department. In the Philippines, cultivating uptake and ownership of DRR from the Bureau of the Treasury and the Department of Finance was critical for enabling high-level policy dialogue, achieving policy reform, and mainstreaming DRR throughout line ministries.

When the World Bank has primarily targeted disaster agencies, progress on catalyzing risk reduction investments or legislative change was slow. Disaster agencies have been key partners for disaster preparedness, coordination, and establishment of disaster strategies, but they tend to lack the capacity and influence to undertake investment programs at scale or to lead on policy reforms requiring sector agency implementation. Disaster agencies often have multiple mandates that they prioritize over DRR. Many have an institutional history and culture focused on civil protection, disaster response, and crisis management. During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, for example, many disaster agencies played a central role in pandemic response. In Armenia, the Ministry of Emergency Situations was the principal counterpart for the World Bank on DRR engagement, and it has the primary mandate for DRR. Although the ministry has made substantial progress on disaster policy frameworks and capacity building, it lacks the capacity and resources to undertake DRR actions while fulfilling its civil protection and crisis response role, and it had limited influence on other ministries. In Nepal, the National Reconstruction Authority—responsible for disaster response and management—had little ability to address DRR in projects because of its reconstruction mandate. Disaster agencies have most effectively supported DRR when they played a supportive and coordinating role with line ministries and served as a supplier of technical expertise, without assuming sole responsibility for risk reduction, as in the OECS.

In many countries, much of the responsibility for risk reduction falls to regional or municipal governments, so engaging these governments has been important. In Brazil, the choice to partner with influential agencies with which the World Bank had an existing track record and relationship—the national interior ministry, the National Water and Sanitation Agency, and state governments—as well as the national disaster agency, was a key to success on drought risk mitigation. Working with and building the capacity of subnational stakeholders at the urban level and below has been important for promoting flood DRR. In India, most progress on DRR has come from engagements with state governments.

World Bank engagement of governments’ committed counterparts (“champions”) has been universally critical for achieving significant DRR progress by elevating the issue and providing sustained support for a long-term agenda, while an absence of champions has made progress difficult. Committed counterparts are important for DRR progress because the intangible and long-term nature of DRR results means that it does not have a natural constituency, and political economy factors will not usually prioritize it absent leadership. In Kerala, high-level support for resilience from the chief minister enabled the World Bank to engage the government on a long-term risk reduction agenda. In Ethiopia, an absence of champions contributed to inaction on flood risk reduction. Political instability or frequent turnover has often undermined DRR when champions are lost. In Armenia, too few individuals in government were willing to champion DRR, and this was compounded by changes in government and high turnover.

It has sometimes been possible for the World Bank to help government champions for DRR emerge through the insights included in its analytical work, long-standing sector relationships, knowledge exchange, or disaster reconstruction. As noted, ASA has sometimes persuaded decision makers to promote DRR. Champions have sometimes emerged through relationships formed through prior sector work: in Brazil, the World Bank developed champions for drought risk management through years of engagement on IWRM and agriculture. Knowledge exchange and study tours have sometimes helped raise awareness and foster buy-in for senior officials. In Bihar and Kerala, international study tours to flood mitigation programs helped cultivate DRR support from senior officials. Disaster reconstruction efforts are high profile and visible and attract influential and ambitious leaders, so the World Bank’s willingness to engage on disaster reconstruction and use it as a platform for risk reduction can convert influential leaders into DRR champions. However, at times, the World Bank must wait patiently until a time arises when such a champion is empowered.

Institutional Alignment and Incentives

Country management focus on, and support for, DRR has been a necessary condition for progress on DRR. CMU support is critical for enabling DRR by creating space in country programs, policy dialogue, and lending; by allocating budget and staffing resources; by setting expectations for mainstreaming in sectors; and by supporting GPs to work together. Strong CMU support was present in nearly all case studies; in cases where CMU support was lacking, progress was minimal. Leadership from country directors and managers with DRR experience was often important. In the Philippines, engagement on seismic risk reduction benefited from a country director who had experience from flagship World Bank seismic programs in Türkiye and China. In Romania, a country manager who had a technical background in disasters played a key role in the World Bank’s reengagement on DRR after a hiatus.

Key Entry Points for Disaster Risk Reduction Engagement

In countries that experience frequent or high-intensity disasters, it has been easier to engage governments to act on risk reduction and for the World Bank to convince governments to borrow for DRR. OECS countries are well aware of the need for DRR given extreme disaster frequency and vulnerability. This has made these clients very receptive to engaging with the World Bank on DRR, with little need for awareness raising through ASA. In Ethiopia, the frequency of drought risks and associated food insecurity has contributed to the country’s prioritization of drought management in DRM strategies, disaster financing, and investment plans, while the less severe effects of floods have made it more difficult to progress on flood management. In the Philippines, the high frequency of floods and cyclones resulted in a high level of awareness of disaster impact, but lower awareness of the risks of low-frequency earthquakes meant that more work was needed to catalyze seismic risk mitigation.

The World Bank’s support for disaster reconstruction has been an important entry point for DRR. It has often been difficult to get governments’ attention for DRR until a serious disaster strikes. Afterward, governments often prioritize reconstruction, responding to immediate needs and political demands. The World Bank’s willingness and reliability in helping governments with recovery and reconstruction have often created a platform for introducing risk reduction elements and setting the stage for ambitious future risk reduction. In Bihar, India, it was initially difficult to gain traction on a risk reduction agenda because of the government’s prioritization of reconstruction and its limited fiscal resources and institutional capacity. However, by providing financing for reconstruction, the World Bank helped position itself as a long-term partner, which enabled sustained dialogue and engagement that led to risk reduction investments. Case studies in Bihar and Kerala found that long-term risk reduction can be politically popular and contribute to electoral success so long as quick disaster response and effective reconstruction efforts are prioritized. In both cases, state governments were reelected after disaster events, and interviewees attested that this was partly due to effective state responses to disaster events. In Mozambique, the World Bank’s deployment of quick disbursing instruments after cyclones and floods helped build credibility and influence with the government and partners. In other cases, disaster response was the principal entry point for risk reduction. The World Bank’s ability to use disaster response to catalyze risk reduction has often depended on preexisting diagnostics that identify DRR priorities in disaster-prone countries that could be incorporated into a new disaster response engagement.

Post-Disaster Needs Assessments (PDNAs) that identify risk reduction actions and priorities and assess damage and loss have been important to foster risk reduction. The PDNA is an internationally accepted methodology for determining the physical damages, economic losses, and costs of meeting recovery needs after a disaster. PDNAs supported by the World Bank have been a useful platform for convening government and development partners to generate a shared vision of disaster reconstruction that includes risk reduction, which is necessary to develop an adequately funded disaster recovery framework that incorporates DRR. In the Philippines, the World Bank–supported PDNA after typhoons in 2009 undertook a multistakeholder dialogue and paved the way for a long-term DRR engagement. In Bihar, the PDNA after severe floods identified and initiated a dialogue on risk reduction options. In contrast, in Ethiopia, an absence of post-disaster damage assessments despite major flooding was a missed opportunity for dialogue and opportunities to engage on flood-related DRR.

DRR engagements have been enabled by the trust earned and relationships forged by the World Bank through its sustained sector engagements. In case studies, clients reported that they valued the technical competence and global knowledge provided by the World Bank, as well as its reliability in times of crisis. In India, long-term national engagements, such as the 25 years of support for improved water resources management, provided an opportunity to support the development of capacity and systems such as for flood forecasting, real-time hydrometeorology, and reservoir management. In Morocco, the World Bank’s policy and investment engagement on DRR was made possible by trust from a government based on the technical expertise shared during the development of a key study assessing Morocco’s resilience. In Romania, the World Bank’s work and relationship with the finance ministry on prior crisis responses and broader development generated trust from the government in ways that enabled DRR engagement.

Local World Bank staff, who are not required to rotate frequently, have played an important role in building and sustaining the government relationships needed to enable long-term DRR engagement. In Brazil, local staff developed sectoral knowledge and forged institutional relationships with national and state counterparts necessary to enhance and sustain engagement on drought risk management. Staff permanence also facilitated collaboration among IWRM, agriculture, and rural development agencies.

Engaging on Disaster Risk Reduction in Small Island Developing States and Those Facing Fragility, Conflict, and Violence

In SIDS, such as the OECS, the most important elements to address to enable DRR include thin capacity, donor fragmentation, high transaction costs, and difficulties of implementation. Capacity constraints are systemic in SIDS: a few highly capable government staff bear most responsibility; there is high staff turnover and emigration, in addition to diseconomies of scale. Increased overseas development assistance for disaster and climate programs has also been characterized by fragmentation. In the OECS, the World Bank’s efforts to address capacity and fragmentation have had mixed results, with implementation bottlenecks and limited absorptive capacity remaining significant obstacles. The World Bank has sought to address these issues by creating umbrella regional DRR platforms, using World Bank–executed trust funds to fill gaps and optimize impact, applying simplified procedures for small states, and providing hands-on support for project management, procurement, and safeguards, among other measures. The availability of financing is not a binding constraint, given deliberate efforts by the World Bank to devote funding to DRR in SIDS, sharp increases in concessional and grant financing, and expanded IDA envelopes with eligibility for SIDS and increased base IDA allocations.

DRR engagements in countries affected by FCV—such as Mozambique—have addressed disaster vulnerability but missed opportunities to concomitantly address drivers of conflict and issues of social fragility. Disasters caused by natural hazards can trigger conflict, acting as a threat multiplier in situations with existing historical grievances. The World Bank’s support for resilient reconstruction in Mozambique after the 2016 floods necessarily targeted its disaster-prone central and northern regions. However, as these are also some of the country’s most politically fragile regions, more could have been done to assess and address conflict risks and, if possible, identify opportunities for peace building.

The World Bank’s DRR engagement in Mozambique reflects many of the challenges identified in broader contexts in which disasters and conflict coexist. Disaster needs assessments conducted in FCV contexts have contributed to the World Bank’s understanding of the situation in the field by providing actionable information to teams and creating a platform for coordination among actors. However, while these assessments address the impacts of conflict, including on conflict-affected populations, there is no process for assessing the conflict sensitivity of the needs assessment itself or the recommended priorities. It would be important for a conflict lens to be applied to the priorities established to make sure that implementing recommendations would not create or exacerbate existing grievances. This step requires a clear theory of change for how structural causes of conflict will be addressed in situations where these tools are used for peace building. Efforts to develop a DRR-FCV exchange began to yield relevant lessons, but the program has lacked adequate support from DRR donors (box 3.1).

Box 3.1. The Disaster Risk Management–Fragility, Conflict, and Violence Nexus Program

An increasing number of countries are affected by natural hazards and protracted conflict, which are mutually reinforcing and exacerbated by climate change. Fragility, conflict, and violence can be key drivers of disaster risk, and disaster risk may exacerbate preexisting conflicts and increase the risk of violence. This growing recognition of intersecting risks prompted Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery staff, together with the World Bank, to develop a Disaster Risk Management–Fragility, Conflict, and Violence Nexus program to promote cross-fertilization of knowledge
and skills. Although studies, trainings, and pilot activities were launched, this initiative

has not received wide donor support because it has been suggested that donors fear spreading disaster risk reduction money too thin and outside of areas experiencing high-intensity hazards, even though early analyses appear to have been yielding valuable observations. For example, in Papua New Guinea, a lack of conflict sensitivity in response to a disaster ran the risk of triggering conflict between the government and communities with existing grievances. Yet the program has not advanced since a secondee appointed by a singularly supportive donor was recalled and the lead staff retired.

Source: Independent Evaluation Group.