The World Bank has launched a ground breaking publication on disaster mitigation and disaster recovery.

The publication, Building Regulation for Resilience – Managing Risks for Safer Cities was written by a co-author of this article, World Bank senior operations officer Thomas Moullier. This paramount World Bank initiative has involved extensive international consultation with disaster recovery and disaster mitigation knowledge tsars and experts.

The report is a vital resource for those who operate in the disaster alleviation and mitigation space. It is critical that the report finds its way to disaster avoidance and mitigation policy makers throughout the world as it identifies a great many factors that increase the risk of environmental induced disaster and outlines ways by which one can change the disaster reduction landscape.

One of the reasons the findings in the report are so compelling is that the World Bank has been able, through its unique international web of networks, to capture a remarkably high level of global expertise in the research and consultation phase. Building Regulation for Resilience provides a best practice blue print for ideas on how to overhaul building regulations, the raison d’etre of which is to minimise human casualty and economic loss within disaster prone jurisdictions.

The launching of the Building Regulation for Resilience report is timely because there is very little that is static about disaster momentum in the third millennium. Environmental disasters have assumed a serial dimension, borne out by the fact that over the last 30 years, the planet’s disaster profile has taken a profound turn for the worst with more than 2,500,000 lives having been lost. The economic reverberations have been extraordinary, as almost $4 trillion has been swallowed up by natural disasters. One of Moullier’s strongest contentions is that the impacts of disasters pose a fundamental threat to the World Bank’s  twin goals of poverty eradication and the boosting of shared prosperity.

A case in point is Haiti, where losses of upwards of 120 per cent of GDP were visited upon an already vulnerable nation after the devastating earthquake in 2010. The economic “after shocks” and ruptures of social disenfranchisement and fracturing are still being felt today. Unless the international community acts with alacrity in the coalescence and mobilisation of its resources to develop best practice building regulatory protocols that are sensitive to the bespoke challenges unique to developing nations, the enormous human and economic cost of disaster will continue its ascending trajectory.

Moullier warns  that until the international community systematically embraces the disaster reduction and alleviation challenge, the planet won’t be able to sustain the kinds of economic and social progress that the World Bank and its partners on the ground are looking to build, especially in the world’s most vulnerable communities. Moullier contends that this imperative is all the more compelling as a changing climate coupled with the profound reshaping forces of population growth and population migration, along with rapid urbanization, will “fertilise” and compound existing risks.

The report highlights the fact that the economic impact of disasters is concentrated in rapidly growing middle-income economies due to increasingly exposed and valuable assets. In these countries, the average impact of disasters equaled one per cent of GDP between 2001 and 2006, or 10 times higher than the average in high-income countries for the same period. The impact is overwhelming in poorer societies, which account for 85 per cent of global fatalities.

The report reveals that money and finite resources to deal with disasters haven’t always gone to the right places in the past 20 years. For every $100 spent on development aid, a minuscule 40 cents has been invested in systemic risk reduction (dealing with the ex-post consequences of destruction (relief efforts, humanitarian, reconstruction and the like.)

Investment into planning and specifically the enhancement of the building regulatory capacity and systemics can help shift the focus from a disproportionate commitment to ex-post measures to financing measures that reduce the destructive impact of disasters in the first place.

There are a number of key questions that have emerged, most notably:

How can the benefits of the regulatory system in terms of increasing the safety of buildings, not only for major disasters but also for the more chronic risks related to fire, structural safety, public health (the silent disasters) be applied?

How can the benefits of more orderly building and land use management in rapidly growing areas in the developing world be brought to bear?

In concluding, Moullier points out that large-scale losses in human lives and economic assets are certainly not inevitable. If we take seismic risks alone in the 21st century, implementing the proposed agenda could spare the lives of 2.6 million people in the developing world.

“In short, what the proposed agenda is about is an accelerated path to regulatory maturity for developing countries,” he said. “This path would avoid a protracted evolution based on tragedy and failure. Instead, by adapting the lessons learned in high-income countries to the local context, low- and middle-income countries could leapfrog toward effective regulation and risk mitigation strategies.”

Article by Conjoint Professor Kim Lovegrove F.A.I.B and Thomas Moullier, Senior  Operations Officer at the World Bank Washington for Sourceable.