Editorial

A timely reminder from the World Bank

Saturday, June 22, 2019

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Word from the World Bank this week that natural hazards — made more likely by climate change, such as flooding and storms — are costing poor nations hundreds of billions of dollars every year, due to crumbling infrastructure, is a timely reminder to us in this region that we need to maintain focus on our disaster management protocols.

According to the World Bank, power and water cuts, as well as traffic disruptions, caused by inclement weather and worsened by poor management and maintenance of bridges, roads, and electricity grids, cost low- and middle-income nations US$390 billion annually.

The Agence France Presse ( AFP) report on the World Bank data noted that two-thirds of humanity is predicted to reside in cities by 2050 — up from 55 per cent today. Against that background, the story stated that with much of the plumbing, power, and health infrastructure needed to sustain them yet to be built, investors are increasingly prioritising projects that will prove resilient to future climate shocks.

In that regard, the World Bank said investment in more robust infrastructure would bag developing nations as much as US$4.2 trillion in the long term.

“We are not measuring the pain and suffering that come out of natural disasters that are destroying people's lives and livelihoods,” World Bank CEO Ms Kristalina Georgieva is quoted by AFP. “We are looking into the price of the solution. What would it take to have infrastructure... built to be better and more resilient.”

“Countries,” Ms Georgieva correctly pointed out, “will save enormously in the future if they act responsibly today.”

The World Bank also told us that the loss of power and disruption to transport networks caused by violent weather events alone cost developing nations about US$18 billion a year. While those losses are concentrated in Africa and south-east Asia, where growing city populations and humid weather conditions pose a growing challenge for infrastructure, the reality of the devastating effects of nature on human populations is not lost on us in this region.

Here, for instance, data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica indicate that damage associated with hurricanes, floods, and droughts has cost the country an annual average of two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) since 2001 and could reach 56 per cent of GDP by 2025.

We also recall the devastations of Category 5 hurricanes Maria and Irma in September 2017 on our sister countries in the region, particularly Dominica which suffered damage amounting to 226 per cent of GDP from Hurricane Maria. That, we are told by the International Monetary Fund, means that it would take Dominica's output at least five years to recover to pre-hurricane levels.

We appreciate the hard, cold reality that natural disasters take a heavy toll on economic growth, can worsen debt, and stifle budget spending as the funds that must be allocated to recovery could otherwise be spent on developmental tasks.

Much has been done in Jamaica, and indeed the wider Caribbean, in the area of disaster mitigation. We must avoid complacency and keep upgrading our protection and response systems.


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