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close this bookManaging Natural Disasters and the Environment (World Bank, 1991, 232 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAbout the contributors
View the documentForeword
View the documentEditors’ introduction
close this folderIntroduction
View the documentManaging environmental degradation and natural disasters: an overview
close this folderStrategic issues
View the documentClimate hazards, climatic change, and development planning
View the documentWhich costs more: prevention or recovery?
View the documentCase study: Rio Flood Reconstruction and Prevention Project
View the documentCase study: La Paz Municipal Development Project
View the documentThe International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction
View the documentMinimizing the greenhouse effect
close this folderDevelopment: from vulnerability to resilience
View the documentCase study: housing reconstruction in Mexico City
View the documentLiving with floods: alternatives for riverine flood mitigation
View the documentCase study: creating job and income opportunities for refugees in Pakistan
View the documentManaging drought and locust invasions in Africa
View the documentDisasters and development in East Africa
View the documentThe link between reconstruction and development
close this folderRisk management
View the documentDisaster response: generic or agent-specific?
View the documentIntegrated planning for natural and technological disasters
View the documentEconomic incentives and disaster mitigation
View the documentCoastal zone management
View the documentDisaster insurance in New Zealand
View the documentCase study: reconstruction after North China’s earthquake
View the documentCase study: Nepal Municipal Development and Earthquake Reconstruction Project
View the documentTraining in the Asian-Pacific region
View the documentRemote sensing and technology transfer in developing countries
View the documentCase study: Minas Gerais Forestry Development Project
View the documentCase study: Da Xing An Ling Forest Fire Rehabilitation Project
close this folderCoordinating efforts
View the documentCase study: Sudan Emergency Flood Reconstruction Program
View the documentUNDP coordination of disaster and development planning
View the documentThe role of nongovernment organizations in Sri Lanka
View the documentManaging natural hazards
View the documentCase study: Taiz Flood Disaster Prevention and Municipal Development Project
View the documentWriting an action plan for disaster preparedness in Africa
View the documentList of colloquium discussants, moderators, and speakers
View the documentKey to acronyms, initials, and abbreviations
View the documentReferences


Wilfried P. Thalwitz

The United Nations declared the 1990s the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The Ad Hoc Group of Experts for the IDNDR saw the Decade as a moral imperative and urged the application of scientific and technical knowledge to alleviate human suffering and improve economic security. Therefore, the World Bank has assembled for this important Colloquium on Disasters and the Environment some of the brightest minds in the fields of development and environmental and disaster management.

Why is this happening in the Bank? What do natural disasters have to do with an institution that has rather limited involvement in financing relief measures and little technical capability for predicting disasters? The connection is development itself. Poverty in the developing countries limits their resilience in the face of disaster. We have only to remember TV images of the earthquake victims in Iran, flood victims in Bangladesh, and, more vivid still, the emaciated victims of recurrent drought in the Sahel. In all these disasters, many more people died than needed to - and they died because of their poverty. They died for lack of transport, for lack of hospitals, for lack of shelter, for lack of food - they died for lack of means, generally.

You could express it another way: poverty keeps the insurance premium from being paid. There is no risk reduction without development - in the sense of growth and the accumulation of wealth, the ability to save and invest, the creation of functioning institutions, and investments in human capital. Development enables ex-ante precautionary measures to be taken that are an important application and expression of wealth - and makes it possible to cushion the impact ex post, when preventive measures are inadequate.

But development is not enough. Development is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for safety. And one purpose of this colloquium is to focus on ways in which the quality of development must be improved - to examine the important feedback loop between growth and the resource base. We recall that the United States allowed drought conditions - the Oklahoma “dustbowl” of the 1930s - to develop even though the agricultural practices of the time were known to be disturbing the American Prairie’s delicate ecological balance. The small farmers lost their land to produce wealth for others.

Even humanitarianism is dangerous when it ignores long-term effects on the ecology. After the first drought in the Sahel, for example, many European agencies rushed to dig wells that would bring water. Cattle herds grew in number, the cattle devoured all available groundcover, and the water table dropped rapidly - because there was nothing to absorb even the little rain that did fall. The herders were worse off than they had been before. All the traditions that had seen nomadic families of the desert through in the past were of no use; the land had lost the ability to sustain animals because of the tube wells.

In short, development is needed to increase developing nations’ resilience in the face of disaster, but development efforts must not result in destruction of the natural resource base.

International efforts to combat global warming and to cooperate on the use of the seas are two components in a major change in resource use. We need to create a fund for poor countries so they can forgo the use of their resources in the short run - as called for in the Montreal Protocol and the Global Environmental Facility. Too often, costs fall on the poor in developing countries while benefits accrue to other, better-off countries.

We must also increase the capacity for scientific research. We can never reach the level of precision with data, or the security of prediction, that an insurance company is capable of - but we must improve our capabilities for measuring the risk of disaster. Better data on risk will allow us to develop policy and incentives to channel the use of our natural resource base in more benign ways. How we use these environmental assets has an impact on the entire world. We must understand the interconnectedness of development and the management of disasters and the environment.