The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery have found the average net benefit of investing in more resilient infrastructure in low- to middle-income countries is $4.2-trillion, or $4 in benefit for each $1 invested.
In a report, titled 'Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity', the authors set out a framework for understanding infrastructure resilience – the ability of infrastructure systems to function and meet users’ needs during and after a natural hazard.
The report examines four essential infrastructure systems, namely power, water and sanitation, transport and telecommunications.
“Making these systems more resilient is critical, not only to avoid costly repairs, but also to minimise the wide-ranging consequences of natural disasters for the livelihoods of people,” the World Bank said in a press release on Wednesday.
Outages to power, water, communication and transport affect productivity, incomes and jobs, as well as the quality of life of people – making it harder for children to go to school or study and contributing to the spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera.
The report found that a lack of resilient infrastructure harmed people and firms more than previously understood. Natural disasters, for example, caused direct damages to power generation and transport infrastructure, costing about $18-billion a year in low- and middle-income countries.
However, the wider disruptions that natural disasters triggered were bigger problems, costing households and firms at least $390-billion a year in low- and middle-income countries.
It was clear that investing in resilient infrastructure was both sound and profitable, whether it be from governments, development banks or the private sector, said World Bank climate change senior director John Roome.
The report's lead author Stephane Hallegatte added that it was cheaper and easier to build resilience if one looked beyond individual assets, such as bridges or electric poles, and understood the vulnerabilities of systems and users. “By doing so, entire systems can be better designed and with greater flexibility so that damages are localised and do not spread through entire networks, crippling economies at large.”
CASE IN POINT
The World Bank stated that Africa and South Asia incurred the biggest losses as a result of unreliable infrastructure.
In Kampala, Uganda, even moderate floods block enough streets to make it impossible for more than a third of Kampalans to reach a hospital during the critical window of time following a medical emergency.
Meanwhile, Tanzanian firms were incurring losses of $668-million a year, or 1.8% of gross domestic product, as a result of power and water outages and transport disruptions, regardless of their origin. Almost half of transport disruptions in the country were also owing to floods, costing more than $100-million a year.
The World Bank pointed out that reliable access to electricity had more favourable effects on income and social outcomes than access alone in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan - boosting per capita income, study time for girls and women’s participation in the labour force.
In India, access to electricity increased women’s employment by 12%. However, access was usually unreliable. Where access was reliable – available 24/7 – employment increased to 31%.
The World Bank said East Asia was a hotspot of infrastructure asset vulnerability to natural hazards and climate change. There are four East Asian countries among the top five countries globally in terms of risk to transport assets, and three out of five for the risk to power generation.
In China, 64-million people were dependent on wastewater treatment plants that were exposed to earthquakes and soil liquefaction risks, and almost 200-million people were dependent on treatment plants that would be exposed to increasing flood risks owing to climate change.
In Peru, landslides often interrupt road traffic, causing large losses for road users. Increasing the redundancy of the road network could be more efficient than trying to make roads resistant to landslides. This was especially the case around Carretera Central, a strategic export route for agricultural products, said the World Bank.
The Lifelines report suggested that infrastructure systems should get the basics right – tackling poor management and governance of systems.
The World Bank further recommended including resilience in regulations and incentives. Financial incentives could be used to ensure that the full social cost of infrastructure disruptions were accounted for, which should encourage service providers to go beyond meeting mandatory standards.
The report also suggested improving decision-making through using better data, tools and skills. For example, digital elevation models for urban areas were not expensive and were critical to informing hundreds of billions of dollars in investments every year.
The World Bank noted that small amounts of resources could be used to support regulators in the early stages of infrastructure design, compared with the billions of dollars needed to repair and recover in the aftermath of a disaster.