Climate and Nature

Global earthquakes underscore the importance of resilient infrastructure

Strict building codes and resilient infrastructure minimized losses in Japan's 2024 earthquake.

Strict building codes and resilient infrastructure minimized losses in Japan's 2024 earthquake. Image: Pexels/Alejandro Perez

H. Kit Miyamoto
Global CEO, Miyamoto International
Olivia Nielsen
Principal, Miyamoto International
Ommid Saberi
Senior Industry Specialist - Global lead for Building Resilience Index programme, IFC, World Bank Group
Guido Licciardi
Senior Operations Officer, World Bank
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Climate and Nature?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Cities and Urbanization is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Climate and Nature

  • Rapid population growth in areas prone to earthquakes and other disasters makes post-event recovery expensive.
  • Investing in earthquake-resistant building codes, inspections, and technologies can significantly reduce casualties and property damage.
  • Strict building codes and resilient infrastructure minimized losses in Japan's 2024 earthquake.
  • The IFC offers financial tools and the Building Resilience Index to incentivize resilient buildings. Global collaboration can create safer communities.

Rapid population growth in disaster-prone regions concentrates people where recovery after extreme events is costly. Disaster and climate risks in the built environment decrease property values, increase insurance premiums, and compound recovery costs, impacting developers, financial institutions, and local governments. Investment in resilience is crucial.


How is the World Economic Forum supporting the development of cities and communities globally?

Japan, struck by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on New Year's Day 2024, demonstrated the importance of planning and resilient building strategies. Despite the tragic loss of over 200 lives and more than 300 homes destroyed, the impact could have been far more severe. Thanks to Japan’s years of planning, preparations, and implementation of resilient building strategies, the country has become adept at mitigating the effects of significant earthquakes.

Türkiye and Syria faced destructive earthquakes just a few months earlier, in February 2023, emphasizing the need for greater care and investment in resilient buildings and critical infrastructure.

The earthquakes led to significant destruction, with more than 50,000 deaths in Türkiye alone, widespread demolition of buildings, and over $34 billion in estimated total damage, equivalent to 4 percent of Türkiye’s 2021 GDP. The majority of the damage was sustained by the housing sector, serving as an urgent reminder of the necessity for resilient buildings and critical infrastructure.

Seismic resilience begins with understanding local geological conditions. Türkiye's earthquake highlighted the impact of soil types on building integrity.

Buildings that remained intact on solid soil contrasted sharply with similar typologies that collapsed on soft soil. Building on less-than-optimal soils does not automatically doom a structure, but it requires careful foundation engineering to mitigate risks.

The September 2023 earthquake in Morocco further underscored the importance of well-constructed buildings. Both traditional and modern construction systems exhibited similar levels of resilience when buildings were well-constructed, but they performed equally poorly when inadequately built or subject to unsuitable changes.

One prevalent building type that suffers excessive damage during seismic events, common in emerging markets, is the well-known “soft story” structure. These buildings, composed of several levels where the structure differs at the ground floor compared to higher floors, are susceptible to collapse.

This design, which allows for shops on the ground floor with apartments above them, often results in a weaker structure under the stress caused by earthquakes. The danger of the “soft story” structure became evident during the California earthquake of 1994, where 40 percent of all casualties were linked to this specific building type.

Similar lessons were drawn from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which severely damaged more than 250,000 homes, many of which were “soft story” buildings. Fortunately, specific measures can strengthen new and existing buildings, including those with a “soft story.”

However, proper inspection during construction by qualified engineers is critical. Countries often have excellent construction codes but lack enforcement. In Türkiye, all hospitals, schools, and public infrastructure projects that underwent inspection during construction performed much better than privately owned apartments or commercial structures, which do not follow the same level of inspection procedures.

Simple measures, like household-level devices that shut off natural gas during shocks, can mitigate disaster impact. Strengthening resilience involves adopting the latest building codes for new construction and retrofitting existing buildings. The implications are clear; in Türkiye, buildings erected after the 1998 update to the code fared significantly better than their older counterparts.

"Strengthening resilience involves adopting the latest building codes for new construction and retrofitting existing buildings."

IFC provides financial solutions and policies like resilience loans or bonds to drive investment in resilience and adaptation.

Among the codes and standards developed globally to improve resilience, IFC created the Building Resilience Index (BRI), an innovative tool that helps developers and investors evaluate real estate resilience and adopt measures to increase safety and operational continuity.

By enabling a comprehensive evaluation of a building’s exposure and vulnerability, BRI empowers stakeholders to make informed decisions about design, construction, and retrofitting strategies.

IFC reports that every US$1 invested in resilient buildings can save US$4 in recovery costs. The urgency of resilience has also been underscored by the United Nations, as the UN Environment Programme identified the need to improve resilience in buildings as part of their Buildings Breakthrough initiative. IFC joined the program, aiming for near-zero emissions and resilient buildings to be the new normal by 2030.

IFC's participation in the Buildings and Climate Global Forum signals a hopeful future, where casualties and collapsed buildings from natural disasters and climate change could become increasingly rare.

It emphasizes the importance of adopting and enforcing improved building codes, refining resilience approaches based on global good practices. Through such steps, we can apply lessons globally, enhancing safety and resilience in the face of natural disasters and climate change.

Have you read?
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Climate and NatureCities and Urbanization
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Weekend reads: Climate inaction and human rights, the space economy, diversifying genetic data, and more

Julie Masiga

April 12, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum