Accelerating Toward Green & Inclusive Mobility | Transforming Transportation 2023
Beyond avoided losses: capitalizing on the secondary benefits of investments in urban flood protection

Faced with increased climate variability, cities are increasingly considering investments in urban flood protection. However, when evaluating infrastructure investments, they often consider only the direct benefits derived from avoided losses with the costs of infrastructure works, neglecting the many secondary benefits that these investments can bring. Take Bangkok's Centennial Park. It serves not only as a retention area for floodwaters but also as an urban park that integrates nature-based solutions to provide valuable space for recreation and protection from heat for citizens.

Beyond avoided losses: capitalizing on the secondary benefits of investments in urban flood protection

Published on 4 May 2023 on World Bank Blogs


Water retention pond.

Park with retention pond.

Bioretention illustration

Figure 1. Bioretention is a nature-based solution used to augment traditional gray stormwater and sewerage infrastructure (source: A Catalogue of Nature-Based Solutions for Urban Resilience)

By considering these and other secondary benefits in the decision-making processes, we can better understand the true value of flood protection and make more informed choices for our communities. It's time to start taking these benefits seriously.

Types of Secondary Benefits of Flood Protection

A recent study by Doeffinger and Rubinyi (2023), with support from Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery’s (GFDRR) City Resilience Program, highlights how an investment in urban flood protection can have many additional or secondary benefits across several areas: society, the economy, the environment, and infrastructure systems. 

Societal benefits: Flood protection measures can provide a safe and resilient environment, reducing the physical and psychological impacts of flooding on communities. Parks and green spaces designed to manage floodwaters can also provide recreational opportunities and community gathering spaces.

Economic benefits: Flood protection measures can increase proximal property values, reduce business disruption, and attract new investment to the area. Redevelopment on formerly flood-prone waterfronts made possible by flood protection measures like embankments can provide new economic opportunities, including housing, commercial development, and tourism.

Environmental benefits: Flood protection measures can protect and enhance the natural environment by reducing erosion, improving water quality, and promoting biodiversity. Green infrastructure solutions, like wetlands, can manage stormwater while also providing habitats for wildlife and improving the aesthetic quality of urban areas.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction benefits: Flood protection measures can play a role in reducing GHG emissions by incorporating low-carbon urban mobility options and green spaces within their design. By integrating greenways and bike paths alongside embankments, cities can promote sustainable transportation. Moreover, green spaces that have been integrated into the project design can function as a carbon sink.

Why Aren’t Secondary Benefits Being Considered

While the benefits of flood protection measures beyond risk reduction are well documented, rarely are they fully incorporated into economic analyses.  This is largely due to the difficulty in quantifying them and the questions they raise around the necessary spatial and temporal scales. The study on secondary benefits of urban flood protection by Doeffinger and Rubinyi (2023) examined 20 urban flood protection projects financed by international finance institutions, finding that only seven of them mentioned secondary benefits and only three quantified and included them in the cost-benefit analysis.

One of the projects that did calculate multiple types of secondary benefits was the Can Tho Urban Development and Resilience Project. The project utilized the World Bank’s triple dividend of resilience framework to assess project benefits and costs. Under a base case (i.e. assuming no alternative scenarios), potential secondary benefits from the project accounted for 12.7% of the project’s net present value of total benefits. The Liberia Urban Resilience Project also utilized the triple divide framework and assessed the potential increase in economic activity by using a fixed percentage of the direct losses. The assumption being that investors would be more likely to finance projects due to an increased sense of safety or reduced risk. Nevertheless, the limited consideration of secondary benefits in the majority of the 20 projects’ economic analyses assessed highlights the need for improved methods to capture and quantify these benefits, as they can play a significant role in the decision-making and approval process for flood protection infrastructure investments.

Paths Forward

Climate change is already affecting our cities, and there is an urgent need for adaptation, including investing in flood protection measures.  An approach that fails to integrate the multiple benefits of flood protection risks resulting in sub-optimal levels of protection and missed opportunities for enhancing urban resilience. To fully realize the benefits of urban flood protection investments and better prepare for the challenges of climate change, it is crucial to consider the secondary benefits they can bring. Here are three action points to help incorporate these benefits into the decision-making process:

  1. Take advantage of research and technological advancements, such as combining economic and spatial models and utilizing remote sensing, to better understand and assess the full range of benefits that flood protection measures can provide.
  2. Adopt a more holistic approach to cost-benefit analysis, such as frameworks like the triple dividend of resilience, to better capture and quantify the secondary benefits of urban flood protection measures.
  3. Plan ahead by incorporating nature-based solutions into flood protection strategies and exploring alternative financing mechanisms, such as land value capture, to maximize a project’s secondary benefits and incentivize private sector participation.

By taking these actions, we can make more informed decisions about flood protection investments and fully realize the potential benefits they can bring to our cities.

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How to create women-friendly public transport in cities in India
Drawing on global ideas, in India, it is crucial to ensure that urban mobility systems and public spaces are designed to be safe, inclusive, and gender-responsive.  This is an essential element for achieving a new, self-reliant India - Atmanirbhar Bharat - and facilitating a shift from women’s development to women-led development. And authorities across megacities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and others are making efforts in this direction – be it by establishing specialized gender labs for policy making, undertaking safety audits, or investing in dedicated bus services.

How to create women-friendly public transport in cities in India

Originally published on 8 February 2023 on World Bank Blogs


Passengers waiting for the metro

Passengers waiting for the metro in Delhi, India

Almost two decades ago, the City of Vienna, Austria, established a Women’s Office. Its role was to look into gender-responsive urban planning, and ensure that the 4Rs – representation, resources, reality, and rights – were actually achieved in Vienna’s public spaces. Over time, this became the Gender Mainstreaming Office.

The result? As of 2022, Vienna has implemented over 60 projects with gender mainstreaming, improving street lighting, widening the pavements, setting special timings when just women can use the parks, creating additional seating for women in public transport, public spaces, apartment complexes, and social housing estates that were designed by and for women, and improving the safety of shortcuts and alleyways by adding mirrors.

Drawing on these global ideas, in India, it is crucial to ensure that urban mobility systems and public spaces are designed to be safe, inclusive, and gender-responsive.  This is an essential element for achieving a new, self-reliant India - Atmanirbhar Bharat - and facilitating a shift from women’s development to women-led development. And authorities across megacities like Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and others are making efforts in this direction – be it by establishing specialized gender labs for policy making, undertaking safety audits, or investing in dedicated bus services.


Indian women looking at the camera.

Group of women in Aurangabad, India. Photo: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

So, how can city authorities go further in the design of transport infrastructure and services to address mobility needs across genders, while improving safety and inclusivity?

An obvious but highly effective intervention is ensuring adequate and well-positioned streetlighting. City authorities, urban planners, urban local bodies, public transport agencies, and other service providers can analyze where lighting gaps occur. Providing adequate lighting on streets and at bus and metro stations can improve safety, especially on routes frequented by women and persons of minority genders. 

Improving walking and cycling tracks to ease first and last-mile connectivity particularly benefits women, as they are bigger users of non-motorized transport. Building continuous, shaded, wider footpaths with minimal encroachment, alongside dedicated cycling lanes and parking spaces, as well as providing incentives for women to use shared cycling services are all potential interventions.

Studies across cities show that given their need to balance household and work responsibilities, women typically combine tasks necessitating several short trips across multiple modes, i.e., trip chaining, rather than a unimodal, long trip from origin to destination. Planning public transport systems so that users can easily switch, say from a bus to a metro, or rickshaw, thus benefits women. This will require coordination between different agencies to have combined information displays, common fare cards, and integrated schedules. In Vytilla, Kochi, for instance, a multi-modal mobility hub is being developed so that city and intercity buses, metro, and riverboats can intersect in one place. Drop-off zones for auto-rickshaws and intermediate public transport are also planned to enhance last-mile connectivity.

Procurement rules may be set to ensure that new fleets of buses have lower handlebars, wider gangways, space for strollers, access ramps, storage space, as well as emergency buttons, and even closed-circuit television cameras (CCTVs).

Services can also be increased during off-peak hours or on routes frequented by women. And guidelines can be created for preferential boarding for women, such as designating one of the doors for women’s priority access. In Mumbai, the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) launched a “ladies-first” bus service, where women passengers are given priority in boarding. 

Request stops, allowing women to disembark from buses at a location other than a bus stop may be started. One successful example is the Telangana State Transport Corporation, which recently directed bus drivers and conductors to allow women to disembark anywhere along the bus route after 7:30pm within the Greater Hyderabad Zone, to reduce the last mile walk between the bus stop and their homes.

Ideally, stations, terminals, depots, and rest stops, apart from being well-lit and providing adequate shelter, would also include separate toilets for women, feeding rooms, and designated seating areas. They could also display passenger information, route maps, and helplines/emergency numbers in different languages.

Standard checklists can be drawn up for public facilities to be classified as “gender-inclusive.” For instance, as part of its women-friendly city project, Seoul produced manuals with a clear list of requirements for restrooms, parking lots, walkways, parks, etc. Excellent facilities were awarded a “women-friendly facility mark.”

Shops within terminals and depots can be awarded to women and persons of minority genders on a preferential basis, or quotas can be applied (e.g., 50% of shops to be auctioned to female vendors) to increase “eyes-on-the-street,” and the feeling of safety.

The use of gender-inclusive signages – where the flashing green and red signals for walkers depict a woman - is another novel way of promoting the feeling of inclusion. Cities across the world, including Mumbai, Melbourne, and Geneva, have experimented with gender-inclusive signages at traffic lights – contributing to increasing conversations for breaking gender stereotypes around women’s presence in public spaces.

Women are amongst the biggest users of public and non-motorized transport across Indian cities.  On average, 45% women walk, and 22% take the bus when commuting to work compared to 27% and 14% of men, respectively (Census 2011). In such a scenario, urban mobility infrastructure and services designed with a gender lens can enable women and girls to access a wider array of choices about their future – preventing dropouts from school or college, taking up a job, or attending a skill training program. Gender-responsive public transport and public spaces, thus, have macroeconomic benefits.

Building on international and domestic good practices, the World Bank’s Toolkit on Enabling Gender Responsive Urban Mobility and Public Spaces in India provides several intervention options for gender mainstreaming to strengthen urban mobility infrastructure and services. It provides a detailed “how-to” guide with templates, case studies, and implementation actions to ensure that we build mobility systems that enable accessibility for all.  

This post benefited from the contribution of Gerald Ollivier, Lead Transport Specialist, World Bank.

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Seismic resilience in Metro Manila: Accessing healthcare after a catastrophic earthquake on the West Valley Fault line

Metro Manila—one of the largest economic hubs in Southeast Asia—is the economic powerhouse of the Philippines, home to roughly 11% of the country’s population and contributing 32% of the national GDP. Metro Manila escaped relatively unscathed in 2019, but a larger risk is looming in the background: the threat of a major earthquake along the West Valley Fault (WVF, Map 1), which runs directly underneath the metropolitan area and poses the most serious threat out of the multiple earthquake generators transecting Metro Manila.

Seismic resilience in Metro Manila: Accessing healthcare after a catastrophic earthquake on the West Valley Fault line

Originally published on World Bank Blogs on 28 March 2023


Aerial view of metro Manila Aerial view of metro Manila

On April 22, 2019, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake shook the island of Luzon in the Philippines—the fourth most populated island in the world, causing multiple deaths and injuring many more people. The epicenter was 82km northwest of Metro Manila, which saw a few buildings tilting due to soil liquefaction—but escaped more severe damages that day.

Maps of roads

Potential Impacts

A Metro Manila risk assessment estimated that a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the WVF (a probable maximum scenario, so-called "The Big One"), could result in an estimated 48,000 fatalities, and $48 billion in economic losses. It also poses a severe threat to urban mobility in the metropolitan area and the provision of key public services, including the health system, as well as lifeline infrastructure like water and energy supply.

Hospitals and the health system play a crucial role in the direct aftermath of an earthquake. Operational facilities are necessary for government continuity plans and for meeting surge demand caused by an earthquake, while simultaneously continuing to provide the baseline services needed by everyday patients and people with preexisting health conditions—a population group with heightened vulnerability to begin with. The ability of such facilities to provide critical care depends on their ability to withstand the seismic shock, but also on being accessible once transport infrastructure is hit.

Accessibility analysis

To assess the risk and enable strategic preparations, as part of the Philippines Seismic Risk Reduction and Resilience Project we analyzed seismic risks in Metro Manila using government data on soil liquefaction (i.e. earthquake-related ground deformation), hospital locations, transport networks, and estimated disruptions to urban mobility. Map 2 shows the location of roads exposed to liquefaction in case of an earthquake from the WVF. However, liquefaction and ground deformation are to be expected, as well as ground shaking. Around 5,300 road segments directly cross the WVF—and in the event of an earthquake they would incur significant damage and may become impassable. As a result, people may not be able to access critical public services and jobs, while the government may be prevented from effectively responding to the emergency.

Our analysis suggests that in the case of a WVF earthquake, over 7,000 km of roads—roughly 34 percent of Metro Manila’s road network—could be affected by liquefaction, causing ground deformation and obstructing roadways. Access times to health facilities increase significantly compared to baseline nonpeak traffic. On average, across all of Metro Manila, access times increase by about 148% (Map 3). In several locations affected by liquefaction, access times could be ten times longer, thus effectively cutting people off. Map 3 highlights the locations in Metro Manila with the largest increases in access time.  Figure 1 summarizes these numbers. The results also suggest that in the post-earthquake scenario, hospital access by ambulance would now exceed one hour for almost 10% of the population of Metro Manila (or 1.1 million people) – compared to 0.7% in the baseline scenario.

Map and charts of people's access to health care post-earthquake

Preparing for "The Big One"

To minimize the impacts of an earthquake, investing in preparedness and response systems is key. Targeting critical road segments and neighborhoods for emergency preparedness and response investments can accelerate recovery times and strengthen people’s access to essential public services during a disaster and in its immediate aftermath. This is the objective of the World Bank’s Philippines Seismic Risk Reduction and Resilience Project. To strengthen the city’s resilience to earthquakes and other disasters, it retrofits buildings of high public importance, enhances the preparedness and response capacity of key government agencies, and strategically positions emergency response capabilities to access critical services. Based on a seismic vulnerability assessment, 425 public buildings including health facilities and schools are being upgraded. Furthermore, emergency preparedness is increased through planning transport and mobility restoration and improving crisis communication and information management. This helps strengthen the capacity of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to respond to emergencies and provide essential support after a disaster. 

Disasters like the earthquake on April 22, 2019, have underscored the urgent need to prepare Metro Manila for earthquakes with epicenters closer to the city. Through this project, the Philippine government is doing just that, by actively increasing the resilience and safety of the population and proactively strengthening its disaster preparedness.

This work is part of the Thematic Area on Climate and Disaster Risk Management for Health Systems at the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), which is funded by the Japan-World Bank Program on Mainstreaming DRM in Developing Countries. The Program collaborates with World Bank teams to assist governments with building more resilient healthcare.

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Secondary cities and towns in the Sahel: Creating places of opportunity

Secondary cities and towns in the Sahel: Creating places of opportunity

Originally published on 4 April 2023 on World Bank



  • Judy Baker, Lead Economist, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience & Land Global Practice
  • Sylvie Debomy, Practice Manager
  • Soraya Goga, Lead Urban Specialist, Urban, Disaster Risk Management, Resilience & Land Global Practice

Bamako, Mali Bamako, Mali

High levels of poverty coupled with conflict, instability, and climate-induced disasters, make the Sahel a difficult environment for the people that live there.  Challenges from droughts and conflicts are on the rise threatening the livelihoods and food security of a large share of the population, particularly in rural areas. In search of refuge and opportunity, many are moving to cities, which are emerging as centers of resilience offering some glimmer of hope in this difficult environment. Close to five million refugees, asylum-seekers, refugee returnees, internally displaced people (IDP), and IDP returnees are estimated in the Sahel (2022 UNHCR). In Kaya, Burkina Faso, for example, a city of 120,000 (2019), the population has doubled in the previous two years due to an influx of IDP. The city is a securitized urban area, acting as a “last post/last bastion” between Ouagadougou and the conflict areas in the North, providing a safe haven for many.

The growth of cities and towns can bring opportunities through new livelihood opportunities and better access to services if well-planned and managed.  At the same time, the rapid influx of population also presents challenges as cities cannot keep up with the strains on infrastructure and services. Many settle on unsuitable land which puts residents and businesses at risk of climate impacts and the integration of new residents may be threatening to some, creating heightened social risk.  As one migrant in Sikasso put it, “At first, we were offered help. It gave us a real sense of relief. But, as you know, there’s a limit to aid. People did their best … but this couldn’t last forever.”

The study, Sahel, The Urban Link: Transforming Rural Economies and Addressing Fragility, analyzes the economic potential, fragility, and climate risk of cities/towns in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Niger, with a deeper look at three selected secondary cities - Kaya, Burkina Faso; Maradi, Niger; and Sikasso, Mali. The study points to the role these urban areas play as economic centers for the surrounding areas, particularly concerning markets and services, also providing opportunities for migrants. Analysis shows that the economic role of these cities is important and could be further developed as many have untapped potential. Border towns stand out across the region as having higher than average economic potential. 

To achieve this potential, urgent investments in secondary cities are needed.  This includes resilient basic infrastructure and services, connectivity, transformative infrastructure, capacity for urban planning and management, and opportunities for microfinance and training that will foster job creation and social inclusion. When designing such interventions, the study points to a few guiding principles and lessons:

  • Interventions should particularly focus on approaches that integrate and address the needs both of the urban area and the hinterland given the strong economic linkages; 
  • Sequencing investments can help ‘balance’ immediate urgent basic service delivery needs with long-term development.  Simple design is key for low-capacity cities, with opportunities for differing implementation modalities, particularly for fragile environments; 
  • Investing in local government capacity building is key to successful development and requires a long-term perspective for impact;
  • Targeting opportunities for jobs and human capital improvements will help to increase economic opportunities over time, with particular attention needed for women and youth to address social exclusion; and   
  • Social inclusion of the forcibly displaced should take a ‘people in place’ approach which accounts for the needs of both existing and new communities to address vulnerabilities and mitigate social tensions.

This messaging aligns closely with the recent Country Climate and Development Report: G5 Sahel, which points out opportunities to prevent risky urban growth and create climate-resilient cities, calling for policies to create a resilient urban development pathway over the next three years.

While the region will continue to evolve and face many challenges, secondary cities can offer an opportunity for many in need.  To help the cities reach their full economic potential and provide an environment of opportunity for residents, urgent priority action is needed.

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Cluj-Napoca: Seven steps toward climate neutrality by 2030

Did you know that Cluj-Napoca is one of the first cities – not just in Romania or Europe, but in the entire world – to initiate the adoption of a NetZeroCity Action Plan? The NetZeroCity Action Plan is a blueprint for making the transition to climate neutrality by 2030 , along with details on needed resources to achieve this transition and key stakeholders that must be engaged.

Cluj-Napoca: Seven steps toward climate neutrality by 2030

Originally published on World Bank Blogs on 13 February 2023

Author: Marcel Ionescu-Heroiu, Senior Urban Development Specialist, The World Bank

 Upgraded urban infrastructure in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Upgraded urban infrastructure in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Photo: Cluj-Napoca City Hall

Recently, the World Bank has provided support to the City of Cluj-Napoca and the Technical University of Cluj-Napoca to identify the main sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the city and to propose a comprehensive list of actions to reduce these emissions by over 80%, compared to their 2011 value. This is just one of the many ways in which the World Bank is supporting Cluj-Napoca on its path toward achieving climate neutrality by 2030.

2030 Goals

Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement is a clear priority for the world. Through the European Green Deal, the European Union (EU) has set for its member countries a biding target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Through the Fit for 55 package, EU countries have committed to cutting their GHG emissions by 2030 by at least 55% from their 1990 level . Moreover, through the 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030 Mission, the EU will provide targeted support to 100 cities, in addition to 12 cities from associated countries, to become climate-neutral by 2030 and serve as an example for other urban areas in the EU. Cities across Europe have prepared detailed applications, and one of those that has been selected is Cluj-Napoca.

Since 2020, the World Bank has been supporting the Municipality of Cluj-Napoca in meeting its GHG goals. The World Bank has worked closely with the municipality on preparing the Integrated Urban Development Strategy 2021-2030 for the Cluj Metropolitan Area, with a clear goal in the Strategy to achieve climate neutrality by 2030, along with a number of clear measures associated with this goal. More recently, the municipality has asked the World Bank and several local stakeholders to provide support with turning key proposals from the Integrated Urban Development Strategy into a NetZeroCity Action Plan—a pre-condition for accessing dedicated EU funds. In response to this request, the World Bank together with a locally formed NetZeroCity Coalition has developed one of the first-ever NetZeroCity Action Plans not only in Europe but in the world.  The Plan will undergo consultations with local stakeholders before being approved by the city council.

Furthermore, the World Bank carried out a diagnostic identifying the main sources of GHG emissions, namely the built environment and transport, which comprise 78.3% and 21.3% of total GHG emissions respectively. The diagnostic also shows that Cluj-Napoca faces the following main challenges: poor energy performance of its private and public buildings, traffic congestion and air pollution, as well as an underdeveloped system of green spaces at the city and metropolitan levels.

CIty of Cluj-Napoca

Photo: Cluj-Napoca City Hall

Seven Interventions

Fortunately, Cluj-Napoca has already taken important steps in tackling some of these challenges, with over 55% of the around 101,000 apartments in communal housing units having already been thermally refurbished. Based on the diagnostic, the Action Plan lays out next steps.

Cluj-Napoca could reduce its GHG emissions by 80% by 2030, over 2011 levels , by pursuing these seven key interventions:

  1. integrated urban regeneration of apartment block neighborhoods (where 77% of Cluj-Napoca residents live)
  2. deep renovation of public and commercial buildings (responsible for half of GHG emissions from buildings) and brownfields redevelopment
  3. improvement of public spaces quality to encourage people to spend more time outdoors and limit urban heat islands
  4. extension of the network of electric charging stations and benefits for electric car users
  5. extension of the Walkable City Program (which has been under implementation for a few years) and an update of the parking policy
  6. major green transport infrastructure and reduction of congestion in the city
  7. continued expansion of green areas (with a focus on a metropolitan green belt with around 12,500 hectares of new forest).

The process of elaborating the Cluj NetZeroCity Action Plan may serve as a model for other cities to achieve climate neutrality. Some key insights that may be relevant for other urban areas include:

  • Not starting from zero, but smartly using existing strategies and plans.
  • Taking the national context into consideration and a good national energy mix will have a significant impact at the local level. (e.g., high share of electricity generated from low-emission sources).
  • Having a baseline value for reducing GHG emissions, ideally for the year 1990, used internationally to measure progress in this field.
  • Having a clear list of interventions that includes both estimated GHG reduction goals per measure, and estimated budget per intervention, as this will give local stakeholders a better sense of how much needs to be done, and how much it will cost to achieve climate neutrality.
  • Having from the start a Theory of Change can help guide planning efforts. The World Bank used the Theory of Change approach used for Bank projects to prepare a framework for the Cluj NetZeroCity by 2030 Action Plan.

For more information about the Cluj NetZeroCity by 2030 Action Plan, please contact Mr. Marcel Ionescu-Heroiu, Senior Urban Development Specialist, SCAUR, at

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Air pollution kills – Evidence from a global analysis of exposure and poverty
Globally, poor air quality is estimated to cause some 7 million deaths each year, as it increases the risk of a wide range of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Yet the exposure to and impact of air pollution are not equally distributed. Air pollution is particularly prevalent in industrializing developing economies. Less stringent air quality regulations, the prevalence of older polluting machinery and vehicles, subsidized fossil fuels, congested urban transport systems, rapidly developing industrial sectors, and cut-and-burn practices in agriculture are all contributing to heightened pollution levels. The lack of affordable quality healthcare services further increases air pollution related mortality.

Air pollution kills – Evidence from a global analysis of exposure and poverty

Originally posted on 18 May 2022 on World Bank Blogs | Authors: JUN RENTSCHLER and NADIA LEONOVA

Traffic and pollution, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Kim Eun Yeul / World Bank Traffic and pollution, Cairo, Egypt. Photo: Kim Eun Yeul / World Bank

And within countries, poorer and marginalized communities are often more exposed. Low-paying jobs are more likely to require physical outdoor labor, leading to heightened exposure. Pollution sources, such as industrial plants or transport corridors, are disproportionately located in low-income neighborhoods. And as air pollution increases, housing prices go down, which in turn reinforces the low-income status of neighborhoods. In short, as health, well-being, and productivity suffer, air pollution can reinforce socio-economic inequalities .

Figure 1. Average annual PM2.5 concentrations in Southeast Asia 

Chart 1

Source: Rentschler & Leonova (2022) based on van Donkelaar et al (2021)

Poor people’s exposure to harmful air pollution.

While many studies have focused on air pollution in rich countries, a better understanding of the interplay between air pollution and poverty is crucial for several reasons. Studies from high-income countries on the health risks associated with air pollution may not be directly transferable to low-income communities, where the nature of occupations and healthcare differ substantially . The health and productivity implications of air pollution will impact the socio-economic prospects of developing countries. This is especially significant in low-income countries, which tend to still have relatively low anthropogenic air pollution levels compared to more industrialized middle-income countries. Here, there is still an opportunity to ensure that development progress does not come hand in hand with intensifying air pollution and the associated detrimental effects on health and well-being .

2.8 billion people face hazardous air pollution levels

In a new study, we provide a comprehensive account of the relationship between ambient (outdoor) air pollution exposure, economic development, and poverty in 211 countries and territories. It presents global exposure estimates for the World Health Organization’s 2021 revised fine particulate matter (PM2.5) thresholds. In addition, we provide estimates of the number of poor people exposed to unsafe PM2.5 concentrations. The findings are based on high-resolution air pollution and population maps with global coverage, as well as subnational poverty estimates based on harmonized household surveys.

Our estimates show that globally 7.3 billion people, or 94 percent of the world population, face air pollution levels considered unsafe by the WHO (annual average PM2.5 concentration over 5 μg/m3). For 2.8 billion people pollution levels are hazardous – with PM2.5 concentrations over 35 μg/m3, which implies a mortality rate that is more than 24 percent higher than in safe areas.

Figure 2. Share of population exposed to PM2.5 concentrations over 15 μg/m3

Figure 2

One in ten people exposed to unsafe air pollution live in extreme poverty

We estimate that 716 million people living in extreme poverty, calculated as living on less than $1.90 per day, are directly exposed to unsafe PM2.5 concentrations; of these, 405 million, or 57 percent are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Further, 275 million people living in extreme poverty are exposed to hazardous PM2.5 concentrations (over 35 μg/m3). Approximately one in ten people exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution live in extreme poverty –making them particularly vulnerable to prolonged adverse impacts on their livelihoods and well-being. For the extreme poor, the same air pollution level likely means increased severe health risks compared to higher income households, as the effects of air pollution are compounded by other poverty risk factors in addition to inequitable access to affordable healthcare.

Pollution is highest in middle-income countries

Yet, the estimates also show that the vast majority of people breathing unsafe air are located in middle-income countries, where 5.5 billion people are exposed to hazardous PM2.5 levels (over 35 μg/m3) – compared to just 40.5 million in low- and high-income countries combined. As a share of the overall population, PM2.5 exposure is also by far the highest in middle-income countries. About 64.5 percent of people in lower-middle-income countries are exposed to PM2.5 levels over 35 μg/m3, compared to just 4.4 percent in low-income countries and 0.9 percent in high-income countries .

global exposure

Towards healthier lives and better livelihoods

Our study affirms the case for targeted measures that reduce the pollution intensity of economic growth – for instance, supporting the uptake of clean technologies and fuels. In addition, measures are needed to directly address the disproportionate exposure of poor people to pollution. For example, improving the provision of affordable and adequate healthcare in large urban centers can help reduce mortality. Mandating transparent accounting for environmental and health externalities in planning decisions can help to steer pollution sources, like industrial zones, away from low-income communities. Finally, removing incentives that perpetuate the over-consumption of polluting fuels can yield a double dividend for poor people. For instance, fossil fuel subsidies are well documented to benefit richer households disproportionately, but the air pollution externalities associated with subsidized fossil fuel consumption are also a burden that can be borne disproportionately by poorer households.

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Nature-based solutions for resilient cities and restoring local biodiversity
Working with nature to strengthen urban resilience can be cost-effective for addressing climate adaptation and mitigation while bringing out broader benefits for biodiversity, communities, and the local economy. The restoration of the urban wetlands in Colombo, Sri Lanka, is just one example of how improving flood control can go hand in hand with boosting species richness and supporting urban farmers.  

Nature-based solutions for resilient cities and restoring local biodiversity

Originally posted on 19 May 2022 on World Bank Blogs


Aerial view of a park with green trees and purple flowers in the city of Assuncion, Paraguay.

Lapachos rosados (Handroanthus impetiginosus), a native species, are an important refugia for birds in Asuncion, capital city of Paraguay. Photo: World Bank Environment.

Such nature-based solutions (NBS) like urban park development and river restoration are found to lead to an estimated 67% increase in species richness.  Achieving both resilience and biodiversity outcomes requires an integrated approach covering protection (local habitats that are still in good ecological conditions), restoration (of degraded ecosystems), or creation of new interventions if needed (Figure 1). These NBS need to be purposefully planned, designed, monitored, and maintained. Below are some practical steps for maximizing the biodiversity outcomes of an NBS.

Infographic showing nature-based solutions in cities.

Figure 1: Achieving both resilience and biodiversity outcomes from NBS projects requires an integrated approach covering the hierarchy of protect, restore and create. Source: World Bank Global NBS team.

1. Understanding the problem

In designing NBS that will benefit biodiversity and ecosystem services, the first step is to do initial screening to understand the environmental characteristics of the project area. Whether it’s erosion, floods, water quality or urban heat, it is critical to understand the origin and the drivers of the problem, the local environment, the stakeholders involved and the regulatory framework. Strong biodiversity baseline studies and stakeholder engagement are requirements for a proper NBS intervention selection that can benefit biodiversity, and innovations such as the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) are providing new ways of establishing such a baseline.

Free databases and tools to understand the ecological context of your project area

2. Building upon local biodiversity

Biodiversity is a basis for establishing a resilient ecosystem, and diverse ecosystems provide essential ecological services for humans such as food, timber, pollination, and climate mitigation. NBS must be designed to bring back local nature to increase environment benefits, while simultaneously restoring ecosystem services for providing climate functions such as flood control or carbon storage.

Single-species vegetation interventions such as monoculture reforestation result in limited fauna diversity and often store less carbon than diverse landscapes. Similarly, wetland restoration that is not designed taking into account the local drivers of degradation, species preference to salinity, and the interrelations among species risks failing in the attempt.

Using native species instead of introducing exotic species for NBS interventions in urban areas is more likely to boost biodiversity outcomes and offer more ecosystem services to urban dwellers, including air purification, irrigation, shade and production of flowers and fruits for birds.

3. Designing for scale

When designed well, the total biodiversity contribution can be larger than the sum of the individual interventions. An interconnected network of green and blue interventions enhances the generation of ecosystem services and increases species richness. NBS interventions within cities need to be informed by a disaster risk assessment to optimize climate resilience objectives and by a biodiversity assessment to maximize environmental outcomes. Scattered individual NBS interventions in a city can be effectively interlinked by green corridors to allow for ecological connectivity and boost biodiversity.  Especially important in cities, is the recovery of riparian areas, true corridors, and refugia for displaced fauna.

Figure 2: Infographic showing nature-based solutions in cities.

Figure 2: Urban level NBS can be optimized for addressing climate resilience and biodiversity outcomes by considering larger scales and ensuring connectivity. Source: World Bank/GFDRR, 2021; designs by Felixx Landscape Architects and Planners.

4. Establishing a baseline and tracking biodiversity goals

NBS projects aiming to strengthen biodiversity should include specific result indicators to measure their impact. Biodiversity indicators can track various aspects of an NBS intervention, including scale (hectares of natural area restored), improvements in biodiversity from the baseline (species richness, abundance, community composition, ecological connectivity), and the longer-term biodiversity gains or ecosystem services. The selection of biodiversity indicators depends on the scale of intervention, the available baseline data, and the monitoring ability and capacity of the implementing agency to ensure appropriate reporting. The baseline study (step 1) should help inform the biodiversity indicators that can be used.

5. Maintaining and managing

The climate resilience and biodiversity benefits of NBS take time to establish and require continuous monitoring, maintenance, and adaptive management to ensure the continued effectiveness of the NBS. For example, newly planted mangrove trees require over five years to reach their maximum storm wave reduction effectiveness, as the trees grow taller and root systems expand. Investment projects with a limited time duration should therefore ensure that a strong management plan is put in place that continues after project closure and that has sufficient funding (or financial instruments designed) and the government team has the technical capacity to ensure the sustainability of biodiversity gains. Working with communities and using new technology, such as the successful community-driven tree planting campaign in Freetown, can be an effective way to ensure sustainability after project closure.

NBS for climate resilience provide a unique opportunity to address climate change and biodiversity loss in an integrated way. The World Bank’s new Climate Change Action Plan and financing from its fund for the poorest, the International Development Association (IDA), can lead to greater investments by countries to tackle their nationally determined contributions (Paris Agreement) and biodiversity commitments (agreement forthcoming with the adoption of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework). Acting now and sharing experiences on NBS can provide the inspiration and interest needed to increase resilience of people and nature.

The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) is supporting the scaling up of NBS globally through the Global Program for Nature-based Solutions for Climate Resilience, which is implemented in partnership across the Urban, Resilience and Land (URL), Water, and Environment, Natural Resources and the Blue Economy (ENB) Global Practices.

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Building disaster resilience among the vulnerable
Natural disasters cause billions of dollars in losses each year, but the damage estimates don’t tell the full story of their impact. The gravity of any loss depends on whom it affects, and the poorest people typically bear a much larger brunt of a natural disaster’s consequences.  With climate change bringing more frequent and severe natural hazards, ensuring a resilient recovery for all requires a better understanding of the impacts that policies can have – and particularly on the most vulnerable people. Experience shows that a wide range of relatively low-cost and effective measures can save lives and protect hard-earned development gains in the wake of disasters. 

Building disaster resilience among the vulnerable

by ALVINA ERMAN and RUI SU | Originally posted on 

Fiji post Tropical Cyclone Winston. Photo: World Bank / Vlad Sokhin.

Fiji post Tropical Cyclone Winston. Photo: World Bank / Vlad Sokhin.

One such measure is the Unbreakable Resilience Indicator developed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and hosted by the World Bank.  Unlike typical disaster risk assessments that estimate expected asset loss, this indicator takes into account that $1 in asset losses does not mean the same to a well-off person as it does to a poor person. The indicator’s three tools ─ the country tool, the policy tool, and the advanced tool ─ measure the risk to well-being associated with asset losses and help a user understand several things: 

  1. Expected annual disaster losses to assets, well-being, and social resilience at the national level. which can be compared with other countries 
  2. Which policy measures result in the largest avoided losses and build resilience most efficiently on a global and country level 
  3. How changing a certain input in the model will affect the overall social resilience and expected asset losses and well-being losses of a specific country 

What is the most impactful policy mix?  

The country tool provides a bird’s eye view of current conditions, such as where a country excels or falls short in different resilience factors. It is based on a simple model that calculates asset and well-being losses for multiple hazards such as floods, windstorms, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Socioeconomic resilience is then estimated as the ratio (0-100%) of expected asset losses to expected well-being losses. A larger socioeconomic resilience means that a country’s population can experience larger asset losses while maintaining its well-being. A resilience level of 50% means that $1 in asset losses from a disaster results in a loss of well-being equivalent to a $2 drop in national in income.  

Unbreakable Resilience Indicator

Take Malawi as an example. The country tool shows that assets equivalent to 1.01% of Malawi’s GDP are at risk from disasters, but because the country’s socioeconomic resilience is merely 59.6%, the risk to well-being is even higher, equivalent to 1.69% of GDP.  The tool reveals that socioeconomic resilience is lower because social protection in Malawi is far below global average, and people’s incomes are also meager. These shortcomings undercut people’s capacity to cope with disaster shocks, therefore magnifying disasters’ impacts on their well-being. The policy tool helps determine where to focus resilience-building efforts. It ranks the effectiveness of policy measures in terms of the annual avoided asset and well-being losses. Universal access to finance, for example, could reduce annual well-being losses in Malawi by 3.1%, or $7 million. 

The gravity of any loss depends on whom it affects, and the poorest people typically bear a much larger brunt of a natural disaster’s consequences.

Beyond an individual country’s context, the policy tool can also compare the benefits of different policy actions across countries globally or within certain regions. For instance, the policy tool suggests that while the Philippines can avert the most asset and well-being losses in absolute terms if it implements a full-coverage early warning system, Cambodia could benefit the most in relative terms (as a percentage of current losses). That is, Cambodia can reduce its current well-being losses by 21% and asset losses by 20% with universal early warning systems, a remarkable contribution to strengthened resilience. 

After understanding the country contexts and policy impacts, the advanced tool allows users to manipulate the input indicators to the model to evaluate the impact of specific policy actions and goals, in terms of their benefits. For example, for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, if we can decrease the poor’s exposure to riverine and coastal flood from 0.6% to 0.5%  and expand access to early warning from 40% to 60%, we can make a sizeable difference in disaster outcomes. The risk to assets (as a percentage of GDP) will be cut by 0.11 percentage points by these actions, and socioeconomic resilience will simultaneously grow by 6.64 percentage points. The synergies will result in the overall risk to well-being indicator declining to 1.30% from 1.69%. 

At a time when we increasingly see how poverty and exclusion exacerbate the impacts of disasters, these accessible yet impactful tools enable policymakers to avoid the worst disaster outcomes and support equitable growth. We cannot afford to neglect the vast potential of disaster risk management to rescue the vulnerable from the consequences of climate change. 

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Mobility and resilience: A global assessment of flood impacts on urban road networks

Road transportation networks are the arteries of modern societies, connecting people to goods, critical public services, jobs, and each other. Yet, the growing density and connectivity of these networks make them more vulnerable to environmental shocks— heightened by a changing climate. So how exposed and vulnerable are transportation networks around the world? In a new Working Paper, we provide the first global evaluation of urban road networks in terms of both direct exposure to flood hazard, and indirect impacts due to city-wide travel disruptions and cascading failures. 

Mobility and resilience: A global assessment of flood impacts on urban road networks

Original article was posted on 1 June 2022 on World Bank Blogs


  • Yiyi HeCollege of Environmental Design at University of California, Berkeley
  • Jun Erik Rentschler, Senior Economist, Office of the Chief Economist for Sustainable Development
  • Paolo AvnerUrban Economist, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), World Bank

Ezra Acayan/NurPhoto

Road transportation networks are the arteries of modern societies, connecting people to goods, critical public services, jobs, and each other. Yet, the growing density and connectivity of these networks make them more vulnerable to environmental shocks— heightened by a changing climate. So how exposed and vulnerable are transportation networks around the world? 

In a new Working Paper, we provide the first global evaluation of urban road networks in terms of both direct exposure to flood hazard, and indirect impacts due to city-wide travel disruptions and cascading failures. We created a dataset of topological road networks for 2,564 cities in 177 countries, covering over 14 million kilometers of roads, and considered ten probabilistic flood scenarios (1:5 year to 1:1000-year return periods).

1 in 7 kilometers of urban roads is exposed to flood hazards

Our global exposure evaluation shows that 2 million kilometers (or 14.7 percent) of all urban road networks are directly exposed to some level of flooding in the 1-in-100-year flood scenario . More than 1 million kilometers of roads experience flooding greater than 1 meter.  Also, in some high-exposure cities, almost the entire road network could be affected. For more intense flood scenarios (i.e., higher return periods) the extent of the exposed road network increases systematically.

Figure 1. Network exposure and mobility: Road network inundation for different flood scenarios (left) and associated mobility disruptions (right)

Figure 1

Note: Percentage failed routes indicate the share of urban trips that cannot be completed in a flood scenario. Each dot in the scatterplot represents a city.

Even limited network exposure can result in drastic urban mobility disruptions

Flooding in certain road segments can disrupt mobility patterns across the whole city. In our study, we conducted thousands of travel simulations for each city to assess how local flood disruptions along roads could propagate across the network, impacting urban mobility. Our results show that these indirect mobility impacts, such as failed trips, travel delays, and travel distance increases, can far exceed direct network exposure.

On average, about 14.7 percent of urban road networks are estimated to be inundated by over 0.3 meters during a 1-in-100-year flood, but 44.8 percent of simulated trips fail in this flood scenario . For the remaining trips that are still possible, flood disruptions add, on average, 1.50 kilometers of detours, costing 3 minutes in additional travel times. Because of the interconnectivity of road networks, local floods can disrupt travel, with impacts on mobility that go far beyond the initially affected area.

Figure 2. Country-level summaries of direct and indirect impacts of flood hazard (1000-year scenario) on road networks and mobility: average travel delay (top-left), average percentage of failed routes (top-right), average percentage of road inundation (bottom-right), and average travel distance increase (bottom-left)

Figure 2

But the relationship between road network exposure and mobility disruption patterns differs significantly across countries and regions. Our research shows that generally, more intense flood scenarios lead to higher exposure and more urban travel disruptions. Yet, several countries show that even floods of lower intensities can induce trip failure rates of over 50 percent–this includes countries in central Africa (Mali and Sudan), southeast Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam), and Latin America (Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guyana, Honduras, Suriname, and Venezuela). In these countries urban mobility is particularly sensitive to flood hazards.

What determines the vulnerability of urban mobility?

Building on past studies on network topology and transport resilience, our study also examines the factors contributing to the high routing failure rates observed in the travel simulations. For example, we show that higher road density (as a proxy for network redundancy) can significantly reduce the risk of mobility disruptions, such as trip failures. Although road density can contribute positively to overall network resilience, it becomes less effective in more intensive flood scenarios.

This means that in practice, baseline investments in densifying urban road networks can strengthen the resilience of urban mobility. But targeted measures, starting at the most critical bottlenecks of the network, such as improving drainage, are also needed to protect against smaller local hazards. More systemic protection measures that mitigate large-area hazards are also needed, such as building seawalls or preserving natural wetlands. The data and results of this study help us to better understand flood risks to urban road networks and mobility patterns in 177 countries, allowing us to identify and prioritize urban resilience measures.

Download the study: He, Y., J. Rentschler, P. Avner; J. Gao; X. Yue, J. Radke. 2022. Mobility and Resilience : A Global Assessment of Flood Impacts on Road Transportation Networks. Policy Research Working Paper. 10049. World Bank. [pending peer review at journal] 

This study was supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).