Sri Lanka in the eye of the storm, in terms of disasters: World Bank country head

flood

Aug 28, 2017 (LBO) – Sri Lanka is in the eye of the storm, in terms of natural disasters, and now is the time to improve response mechanisms and disaster preparedness, says the World Bank’s country director.

“This year, yet again, flooding caused by heavy monsoon rains came and receded. Meanwhile, this year alone, more than one million people have been hard hit by the worst drought in 40 years,” Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, the World Bank Country Director for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, said in a blog post.

“We are in the eye of the storm — that misleading lull before mother nature unleashes her fury once again.”

Costs from damage to housing, infrastructure, agriculture, and from relief is estimated at LKR 50 billion, approx. USD 327 million.

The highest annual expected losses are from floods (LKR 32 billion), cyclones or high winds (LKR 11 billion), droughts (LKR 5.2 billion) and landslides (LKR 1.8 billion), which is equivalent to 0.4 percent of GDP or 2.1 percent of government expenditure.

Floods and landslides in May 2016 caused damages amounting to US$572 million.

“These numbers do not paint the full picture of impact for those most affected, who lost loved ones, irreplaceable belongings, or livestock and more so for those who are back to square one on the socio-economic ladder.”

“Even more alarming, these numbers are likely to rise as droughts and floods triggered by climate change will become more frequent and severe. And the brief respite in between will only get shorter, leaving less time to prepare for the hard days to come.”

Sri Lanka, like many other countries, has started to invest in data that highlights areas at risk, and early warning systems to ensure that people move to safer locations quickly.

“Now is the time to double down on preparing national plans to respond to disasters and build resilience.”

Pswarayi-Riddihough said it’s time to test systems and get all citizens familiar with emergency drills. In drought-affected areas, rather than wait for the rains and revert to the same farming practices, it’s time to innovate and stock up on critical supplies and be prepared when a disaster hits.

Better shelters that are safe and where people can store their hard-earned possessions are also necessary.

Several initiatives are now gathering data on mobilizing and empowering communities, so as to know who is vulnerable, and whether they should stay or move.

Modeling of river basins under the Climate Resilience Improvement Project (CRIP), which is supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), will help Sri Lanka better understand water flows; improved information access and analysis by the Department of Meteorology aims to provide 2-3 days warning before a weather-related disaster strikes; NGOs, government and development partners are beefing up their outreach efforts to help alert and prepare communities; and building back better after a disaster is leading to sturdier and more resilient infrastructure.

Pswarayi-Riddihough said investments required over the next 5-10 years for risk mitigation will amount to several billions of dollars.

“The country needs to keep a close watch on the impact of disasters on its finances and budget. It needs to strike a fair balance between budget support needed for disaster management programs and budget reserves which can be accessed with speed and effect in times of disasters. It also needs to build in insurance mechanisms. A long-term approach is needed while being prepared for short term impacts.”

More information is available here: http://www.worldbank.org/en/events/2017/08/16/public-dialogue-on-the-economic-benefits-of-environment-management-in-sri-lanka