Disaster-hit nations must rebuild better or risk losing insurance, experts say

by Sophie Hares | @SophieHares | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 13 October 2017 22:34 GMT

A worker uses a backhoe loader to remove damaged electrical installations from a street after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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New infrastructure should be low-carbon and built to survive disaster threats, a World Bank conference hears

By Sophie Hares

TEPIC, Mexico, Oct 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - D isaster-prone countries that keep rebuilding homes, roads and utilities are in danger of becoming uninsurable unless their new infrastructure is built to survive further catastrophe, experts said on Friday at a World Bank conference.

New construction must be low in carbon emissions and built on safe land at less risk of destruction as extreme weather intensifies under global warming, they said.

More infrastructure is about to be built in the next 20 years than was built in the past 2,000 years, said experts at the World Bank conference on infrastructure and resilience held in Washington, D.C.

The total cost of that infrastructure is seen at some $5 trillion a year.

"The expense of a constant construct, reconstruct, reconstruct, frankly, no country can afford," said Christiana Figueres, former United Nations' climate chief.

"Because we know we will be getting more of these effects, we cannot let ourselves get to a scenario where we are systemically uninsurable," said Figueres.

Among recent disaster losses, no more than half were covered by insurance, she said.

Extreme weather such as flooding, severe storms and drought is increasing with global warming, experts say.

Mapping risky areas and determining the cost of making infrastructure resilient must be done before rebuilding, said Figueres.

She estimated the cost of making low-carbon infrastructure that can withstand shocks might be an additional 10 percent.

Although governments are increasingly aware of the need for resilient infrastructure, residents need incentive and encouragement to rebuild wisely, said Kamal Kishore, member of India's National Disaster Management Authority.

"If you have a bridge across the River Ganges and you stop it for a day... the economic impact is huge," he said. "We really have to make the case of life-cycle costs and benefits, not just the upfront costs of infrastructure."

India has made considerable progress in reducing deaths from cyclones due to a combination of resilient infrastructure, community networks and scientific advances, he said.

Data indicating possible risk must be easily available to ensure infrastructure is not built on land prone to floods or other disasters, said Aris Papadopoulos, former chief executive of cement company Titan America. Papadopoulos recently set up a private-sector risk reduction network with the U.N.'s Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

"We build in vulnerable locations to the same standards as were built in the safer location, and what's the result? We have disaster," he said.

Urging a modern-day Marshall Plan to rebuild the Caribbean devastated by recent hurricanes, British businessman Richard Branson said the islands need more hurricane-proof homes and stronger electricity systems.

The original Marshall Plan was a multibillion-dollar U.S. program that helped rebuild Western Europe after World War Two.

Cutting dependency on costly fossil fuels and switching to solar or wind energy would free up resources for islands that spend as much as a quarter of their national expenditures on fuel, said Branson.

Branson is trying to set up a fund to help Caribbean nations replace fossil fuel-dependent utilities with low-carbon renewable energy sources.

"How much more destruction is needed to show that the way we treat our planet is having serious consequences and sadly will have even more serious consequences?" he asked. (Reporting by Sophie Hares, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst )

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