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Resilient infrastructure key response to natural disasters

An interesting article on We Build Value explains all about the World Risk Report produced by the University of Stuttgart for the United Nations. The report compares the damage caused by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters. The findings of the study were that the cost varied depending on the quality of the infrastructure, further illustrating the need for resilient infrastructure. In 2015, of 346 natural disasters that caused 22,000 deaths, there was economic damage at a worth of $66.5 billion.

In another UN study, it was estimated that the global cost of natural disasters from 2003 to 2013 was $1.5 trillion.

Resilient infrastructure refers to infrastructure systems that absorb disturbance and retain their function and structural capacity. In the World Risk Report, the difference that resilient infrastructure can make in the event of a natural disaster was highlighted illustrating: <<Resilient roads, bridges and buildings guarantee connections between communities and facilitate the arrival of emergency services and supplies to wherever a natural event has struck.>>

Resilient infrastructure is the key response to natural disasters, and with the escalating threats of natural disasters, it is all the more vital that we invest in the right infrastructure of the best quality.

The global architectural and engineering community has been calling for resilience best practices that include: robustness, redundancy, resourcefulness, and rapidity. A couple examples of resilient infrastructure that were built with one or more of these best practices in mind are:

  • ‘Room for the River’ program initiative in the Delta Program: Nearly 30% of the Netherlands in below sea level and another 30% is vulnerable to flooding along its rivers. Proactive planning for flooding is necessary, especially considering the heightened risks due to climate change. This initiative involves making room for rivers in 30 locations, by creating room for floodwaters, creating diversions for excess, and restoring riverine landscapes.
  • In Iowa, climate change information is being used to assist in urban planning and infrastructure design. By using data to forecast future flooding, resilient infrastructure is being implemented to be a force in the face of flooding.

Funding for resilient infrastructure

In terms of funding for accomplishing projects for resilient infrastructure, there are major costs that go towards preventative measures. National, regional and city governments already struggle with paying to maintain current infrastructure, so it is common for them to look to the private sector for financial support in these endeavors. Responsibilities do not solely lie with infrastructure owners or service providers alone, but in the event of a natural disaster, we all end up paying in one way or another.

In fact, the price of non-resilience is estimated to be in the billions, if not trillions. According to Swiss Re, the total of economic losses from natural and man-made disasters in 2017 is around $306 billion, $188 billion more than 2016. In 2015, The Economist estimated that a 2 degree Celsius rise in average temperatures may bring to $4.2 trillion of losses in global infrastructure assets (in present value terms). Investments and subsequent implementation of resilient infrastructure can be expensive and also time-intensive, but to pay now rather than to pay in more than money later is a drastic difference.

Sustainable resilient infrastructure is also linked to economic growth, as initiatives have the potential to lead to interesting net benefits. These benefits can range from greater trade via reliable infrastructure, reduced energy costs, and putting communities and countries in positions where growth and opportunity are accessible and truly possible.