Disaster-Resilient Infrastructure: Unlocking Opportunities for Asia and the Pacific (April 2022) – World


Resilience is a crucial challenge for Asia’s development, where exposure to climatic and geophysical hazards is widespread. Between 2004 and 2020, disasters caused losses of over $500 billion in the region and affected 2.1 billion people (Sirivunnabood and Alwarritzi 2020). The risk posed by natural hazards is expected to intensify over the coming decades as economies develop, urbanize and combat climate change. Resilience planning, including actions taken to reduce, transfer and manage climate and disaster risks, will be of vital importance to developing Asia as it strives to support economic development and reduce poverty.

Infrastructure has a central role to play in supporting resilience. Large-scale infrastructure spending will support economic development. Developing Asia will require approximately $1.7 trillion in annual capital expenditure to meet its infrastructure needs through 2030 (ADB 2017). How infrastructure investments are planned, operated and financed will fundamentally shape the resilience of the region. There are three main reasons for this. First, infrastructure assets are likely to be exposed to hazards; the choices made as to their location and design will therefore determine whether and to what extent losses occur. Second, the resilience of the infrastructure as a system shapes the ability of users to exchange and access basic services in the event of a disaster: evidence from Viet Nam suggests that the economic costs induced by infrastructure failures can increase to twice as much as the damage to the infrastructure itself (Woetzel et al. 2020). Third, infrastructure affects the geographic distribution of economic activity – and therefore the spatial pattern of future development, which may take place in more or less disaster-prone locations.

This report identifies opportunities to provide resilient infrastructure in developing countries in Asia. It draws on a survey of planners and operators, a literature review and best practice case studies, as well as two original modeling applications, to identify practical ways to improve infrastructure resilience. . The work takes a holistic view of practices that affect infrastructure resilience, including risk assessment, investment appraisal, and operation and maintenance throughout the life cycle of an infrastructure asset, as well as holistic approaches to achieving system-wide resilience, financing and governance goals. . Three cross-cutting themes and 16 specific opportunities in these areas are identified (see Figure 2 in the PDF).

The first cross-cutting theme of improving resilience is to better understand and report on its benefits. The importance of disaster risk is widely recognized in Asia and the Pacific, and systematically factored into the planning and prioritization of infrastructure investments. However, planning decisions are often based on a narrow and simplistic view of risk, leading to a focus on assets, rather than system or user resilience. The use of the triple dividend resilience framework for planning, involving an assessment of benefits for their potential, not only to reduce disaster losses, but also to stimulate economic development and lead to wider co-benefits, can steer decision makers toward opportunities that offer greater value for money. In a study of water resilience interventions in developing countries, for example, 75% were found to promote economic development and 89% to deliver societal co-benefits, such as gender inclusion ( Mechler and Hochrainer-Stigler 2019). This report highlights opportunities to take a broader view of resilience benefits when setting resilience goals and prioritizing infrastructure investments (see opportunities 1 and 7).

The second cross-cutting theme is improving risk information. While the global case for resilience is clear, local evidence of current and future risks is often insufficiently strong to support decisions. When higher capital or operating costs are perceived to outweigh the intangible, long-term, and uncertain benefits of disaster resilience of infrastructure, underinvestment in resilience can result. More spatially granular information about risk, taking into account future demographic, economic and climate scenarios and expressed in socioeconomic terms relevant to decision-making, could thus improve decision-making. Approaches to overcoming existing barriers to risk information include increased use and standardization of open-source data, and application of dynamic adaptive policy pathways to account for future uncertainties (see Opportunities 4, 5 and 8).

Improving coordination among decision-makers is the third cross-cutting theme. The interconnections between infrastructure systems in different spatial, sectoral, economic and societal domains require a similar approach to managing resilience. However, developing such an approach for the region is a formidable task: only around 50% of respondents to a survey for this report ranked it among the top three priority areas for improved practice. Early coordination between sectors, owners and operators allows them to create a shared vision of resilience goals and build a common understanding of relevant hazards and their impact (see Opportunities 2 and 3). Investment decisions made at the cross-sectoral level can pay greater attention to system-wide costs and benefits, including those that cross spatial and sectoral boundaries (see Opportunities 7 and 10). Finally, this decision-making process can be supported by integrated financial planning and institutional structures that promote resilience beyond the main sectoral or regional responsibilities of stakeholders, as discussed in sections 7 and 8.

Practical solutions to build resilience span all areas of infrastructure provision. The opportunities identified in this report cover risk-based investment decisions and effective operations, supported by appropriate resilience goals and financial and institutional structures. Two original case studies on the use of open source risk information and dynamic adaptive policy pathways (see sections 4.5 and 5.5) show how these investment decisions are made. The attached examples showcase existing best practices and illustrate “tried and tested” pathways to success, which can be used as models to drive further progress in the region.