Building climate, disaster resilient infrastructure

13/Oct/2019 PK Mishra I Hindustan Times

Every year, the world observes the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDRR) on October 13. The day celebrates the efforts of communities and governments worldwide to reduce disaster losses. It also serves as a reminder of the challenges that remain in building disaster resilience of each and every community, everywhere in the world. After the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015, the IDDRR has been observed as part of the
“Sendai Seven” campaign, centred on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework. This year’s theme is focused on the Sendai target related to “reducing disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services”.

The disasters that have occurred in 2019 – cyclones in Mozambique, Bahamas and India (Odisha) – and the infrastructure losses they have caused underline the importance of disaster resilient infrastructure. In the Odisha cyclone, the power sector alone accounted for nearly $1.2 billion of damages and losses. At the same time, Odisha was a reminder of how investment in resilient infrastructure, over the long term, pays for itself. Under the World Bank-supported National Cyclone
Risk Mitigation Programme, parts of coastal Odisha have invested in underground cabling of power distribution network. In these areas, the power supply could be restored within days as opposed to several weeks in other areas. Not only was the direct damage to the distribution network minimal, the knock-on effect of power disruption on livelihoods could also be minimised. The utilities in India and around the world will need to closely look at such experiences and adopt a practical approach to building resilience in their infrastructure systems.

This is particularly important because the world will witness unprecedented investment in infrastructure over the coming decades. Both the future and present infrastructure systems will inevitably be exposed to natural and man-made hazards, including some unpredictable events, during their long life cycles. During this period, the hazards, particularly those related to climate, may also change. The design, construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure systems will
need to address these risks and uncertainties, especially when one considers that up to two-thirds of public sector losses following a disaster are infra-related. These losses manifest largely among society’s economically weaker sections, who subsequently take the longest time to recover.

Infrastructure systems’ resilience is thus not only a disaster management issue but a core development concern. Mobility, connectivity to domestic and global markets, and uninterrupted access to power, water and communication systems create conditions for economic development and prosperity. This recognition is also reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), wherein Goal 9 is focused on infrastructure development, and the other goals implicitly recognise the
importance of investing in quality infrastructure.

Building resilient infrastructure requires appropriate financial incentives, standards, governance arrangements and capacities. But it has the potential to deliver benefits far in excess of the investment as is evident from the Odisha example.

A recent World Bank study found that $1 invested in strengthened resilience generates $4 in avoided socioeconomic losses, an ROI multiplier over the infrastructure’s lifecycle.

The anticipated massive infrastructure investment, be it in new/greenfield developments or refurbishment of existing structures, is thus an unprecedented opportunity to ‘lock in’ resilience, and secure our future against possible losses, in the long term. The effort towards developing resilient infrastructure should be guided by three principles:
One, infrastructure must be designed to provide reliable services to the entire economic spectrum of the population, including the poorest and the most vulnerable.

Two, infrastructure development should take a more integrated systems view across different sectors.

Three, the resilient infrastructure development must be drawn on the global best practices and translate them to the local and national context.

Such an approach, with systemic resilience at its heart, has the potential to positively transform individual nations’ development trajectories and secure progress on the path of rapid economic development.

Appreciating the importance of resilient infrastructure, Hon’ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 10-point agenda for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) emphasises the need for all development sectors to imbibe DRR principles. This agenda also anchors the global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) that he announced at the UN Climate Action Summit on September 23, 2019.

Led by India in collaboration with the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, interest in CDRI has evolved over the last two years, with a range of countries — countries with advanced infrastructure system, countries with large infrastructure deficits, small island and landlocked developing nations — appreciating its need and relevance. The coalition will bring together sector ministries in national governments, standard setting organisations, financiers, insurers and academic institutions.

As the coalition takes shape, it is important that its focus transcends asset-level, and looks at system-wide risk. There are interdependencies between various infrastructure sectors such as power, telecommunications, and transport that need to be taken into account in order to build system-wide resilience. This also means that disaster risk management must move from being the sole remit of disaster management authorities to a much wider stakeholder net.

As a CDRI founder, India has the opportunity to learn from, and impart experience to, a diverse portfolio of countries. The CDRI will bring like-minded partners to a common platform guided by a common global cause. The time is ripe to leap forward and forge ahead on a global path of disaster and climate resilient development.

PK Mishra is the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister He is a noted expert in disaster risk reduction and has been conferred the prestigious United Nations SASAKAWA Award 2019 for his contribution to disaster management.

The views expressed are personal.