Making Infrastructure Disaster-Resilient

Date: March 2013
Type: Papers and Briefs
Climate change; Evaluation; Governance and public sector management
Series: Learning Lessons


Hazards of nature—floods, earthquakes, typhoons, and climate change—pose growing risks to development. When infrastructure fails during a natural disaster, it can interrupt vital services, magnifying the need for well-functioning systems beforehand (Chang 2009). For example, power failures may disrupt water supply and transport during typhoons. Damaged roads after a strong earthquake can hamper the swift transport of people to safer areas, provision of life-saving medicines and supplies to hospitals, and timely distribution of emergency relief (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] 2012).

Making infrastructure resilient to natural disasters is a daunting challenge, not least because of the vast area of coverage that includes transport, electricity, water supply and sanitation, and buildings and other structures. Resilience refers to a system’s ability to anticipate, absorb, and recover from a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner (IPCC 2012).

For development practitioners, the discourse on resilience is increasingly framing thinking about sustainable futures in the context of natural disasters and climate change. The issue has developed as a fusion of ideas from several bodies of literature— engineering, ecosystem stability, behavioral sciences, disaster risk reduction, vulnerabilities to hazards, and urban and regional development.

Consequently, resilience spans a spectrum of disciplines and goes beyond the emphasis of conventional engineering systems on the capacity to control and absorb external shocks. This paper offers lessons for making infrastructure disaster-resilient based mainly on the experience of countries in Asia and the Pacific. It also shares practices associated with the multifaceted dimensions of resilience by drawing on publications from international and national organizations.