resilience reporter

resilience starts with information

What have we learned from disasters so far?

We need to rethink how we talk about infrastructure after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

infrastructure

Resilience is a property traditionally defined as the ability to bounce back. A host of engineers and urban planners have long warned this trait is sorely lacking in America’s brittle infrastructure. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The wonky words infrastructure and resilience have circulated widely of late, particularly since Hurricanes Harvey and Irma struck paralyzing, costly blows in two of America’s fastest-growing states.

Resilience is a property traditionally defined as the ability to bounce back. A host of engineers and urban planners have long warned this trait is sorely lacking in America’s brittle infrastructure.

Many such experts say the disasters in the sprawling suburban and petro-industrial landscape around Houston and along the crowded coasts of Florida reinforce the urgent idea that resilient infrastructure is needed more than ever, particularly as human-driven climate change helps drive extreme weather.

The challenge in prompting change — broadening the classic definition of “infrastructure,” and investing in initiatives aimed at adapting to a turbulent planet — is heightened by partisan divisions over climate policy and development.

Of course, there’s also the question of money. The country’s infrastructure is ailing already. A national civil engineering group has surveyed the nation’s bridges, roads, dams, transit systems and more and awarded a string of D or D+ grades since 1998. The same group has estimated that the country will be several trillion dollars short of what’s needed to harden and rebuild and modernize our infrastructure over the next…

 

What have we learned from disasters so far?

From drought-linked hunger crises in East Africa to floods in South Asia and hurricanes in the United States, disasters have repeatedly hit people all over the world in the past year.

About 1.5 million people have died in disasters in the last 20 years, and crises such as hurricanes and severe droughts cost $30 billion a year across 77 of the poorest countries in the world, according to Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Learning from such disasters – including crises such as pandemics and earthquakes – will be as crucial as how we respond to them if we are to prevent future loss of life, experts told a London event hosted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) on Thursday.

According to Jennifer Leaning, director of Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, “in the past 20 years we’ve learned a great deal about pandemics, for example, but not enough about how to build a robust enough system to respond to them.”

During West Africa’s Ebola outbreak, which started in 2014, for example, better use of technology could have contained the disease, she believes.

“Mapping people’s whereabouts with mobile phone data, for example, could have allowed health workers to track social contacts through which the disease is spread,” she said.

Similar geospatial data can also help direct search and rescue…

 

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