WB ‘must upgrade disaster response’

07/10/2010 | Andrea Armeni, Liz Chong

The independent agency measuring the World Bank’s effectiveness has urged the institution to revamp its response to disasters, in the light of problems laid bare by the Haiti earthquake and floods in Pakistan

The independent agency measuring the World Bank’s effectiveness has urged the institution to revamp its response to disasters, in the light of problems laid bare by the Haiti earthquake and floods in Pakistan.

The Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) has urged the Bank to improve its relief efforts, making disaster prevention an integral part of its new strategy.

While disasters cannot be prevented, disaster preparedness can vastly mitigate the overall damage, Vinod Thomas, Director-General of the IEG, said.

“More can be done to increase disaster preparedness,” Thomas said. “The trade-off is that the costs have to be incurred today.”

In Pakistan, the floods have presented an opportunity to address problems such as the tensions between poor indebted tenants and wealthy landlords in areas including the southern Punjab.

On the principle of reliance on existing strengths, the IEG also suggested greater use of the country’s network of microfinance programmes to help people affected by the floods. It called for the creation of an emergency contingency fund to help Pakistanis buy food and shelter.

Cash for work, a program featured in Haiti’s post-disaster effort, is the type of instrument that can couple reconstruction with the revival of the local economy.

On reconstruction efforts, the IEG points out that new funding is more effective than switching resources from existing projects.

The IEG called for the World Bank to speed up emergency loans and credits, noting that they “tended to be slow to disburse after Board approval”.

Another area of concern, the IEG says, is the realism of project designs in disaster situations. Deadlines are seriously violated in most cases, and original targets are often modified or altogether missed.

Thomas underscored that in many cases, a natural disaster is not a matter of if, but when.

The World Bank’s appointment procedures for disaster operations have also come under review. The World Bank has set up a team of experts experienced in responding to disasters, but the IEG expressed concern about whether the institution can ensure their rapid deployment.

From the first day of an emergency, a response can have a positive or a detrimental effect. Thomas pointed out that the Bank is well-equipped to be a first-line responder because of its in-country presence and cross-sector capabilities.

Particularly in light of these strengths, the agency called for the Bank to respond to disasters with greater urgency, arguing that the institution ought to be involved from the outset.

Relief efforts must also focus on longer-term issues, such as maintaining the social fabric and minimizing dislocation, avoiding resettlement while keeping families and neighbourhoods together.

In two internal reports, the IEG provides detailed prescriptions for improvements in disaster response. Thomas said the evidence bears out a rise in the occurrence of natural disasters, which heightens the pressure for governments to focus more on disaster prevention.

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