Building safer and more resilient schools in a changing climate

Source(s): World Bank, the
Turkish schoolgirls in uniform walking in a street
Oleg Kozlov/Shutterstock


Natural hazards, some fueled by a changing climate, have a devastating effect on children’s education and lives in every corner of the globe. Through its Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS), the World Bank works hand-in-hand with client countries to ensure the resilience of school infrastructure. Managed by the Bank’s global unit for disaster and climate risk management and primarily funded by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), GPSS uses a comprehensive approach to inform school infrastructure investments and government capacity building encompassing technical assistance, knowledge, and analytical support. A prime example of how knowledge, financing, and grants from the World Bank can combine to create impact at scale, over the last 10 years, GPSS has made schools safer for 121 million students across 35 countries.


Intensifying natural hazards, devastating effects on education

Each year, natural hazards have devastating effects on children’s education around the world. They cause direct harm to children, teachers, and the school community, damaging or destroying school infrastructure. According to an analysis by Save the Children, between 2000 and 2019, at least 60 major disasters, spanning 30 countries, disrupted education for over 11 million children. Weather-related hazards, moreover, are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. In addition to their immediate direct impacts, such as the destruction of infrastructure, natural hazards also precipitate indirect negative effects on the learning environment in the medium term. Damaged school infrastructure exposes the educational community to physical and mental stress and interferes with school operations, teaching, and learning. In the wake of a disaster, the effort to bring children back to school and recover the full operation of the education sector is prolonged, often involving a lengthy emergency response and a protracted recovery and reconstruction process.


A multi-pronged approach to school infrastructure resilience

The World Bank is a leading partner to countries in their efforts to ensure that schools are safer and more resilient to natural hazards and climate change. The World Bank’s marquee initiative on school infrastructure resilience is the Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS), a program managed by the Bank’s global unit for disaster and climate risk management with funding from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and co-implemented by the Bank’s Education Global Practice. GPSS’ support for infrastructure resilience has included: (i) providing technical advice for in-country activities and facilitating the design of risk-informed investments; (ii) integrating risk reduction considerations into World Bank education infrastructure operations; and (iii) developing a global repository of evidence-based knowledge on the safety and resilience of school infrastructure.


Between 2014 and 2023, GPSS has supported 35 countries through projects that have benefited over 121 million students in around 564,000 schools and informed the design and implementation of more than $3.1 billion in World Bank-financed school infrastructure operations. Examples from client countries illustrate the range and breadth of these interventions.

In Mozambique, the World Bank, through the Disaster Risk Management and Resilience Program, has been supporting the national government since 2019 in its efforts to ensure the resilience of school infrastructure. As of 2023, over 600 classrooms are being retrofitted in accordance with climate-resilient technical standards. By 2025, the World Bank anticipates that 3,000 classrooms across the country, including in the capital city of Maputo, will be retrofitted. The schools subject to retrofitting were identified based on a vulnerability assessment of 5,000 schools in cyclone-prone areas.

In Colombia, the World Bank, through GPSS, has been working with the municipality of Cali since 2018 to use the Bank’s Roadmap for Safer and Resilient Schools (RSRS) to survey each public school in the city. This exercise enables the World Bank and the municipal authorities to understand each school’s structural vulnerabilities, analyze the construction and regulatory environment, and study and prioritize various interventions, including retrofit options. The RSRS is a step-by-step guide for the design of intervention strategies and investment plans to make schools safer and more resilient at scale. In line with a municipal school infrastructure plan developed with World Bank support, Cali has prioritized safety improvements across the school system, including expanding public school facilities to comply with national standards at an estimated cost of $668 million.  

In Vanuatu, the World Bank, through GPSS, has supported the national government since 2017 in safeguarding school infrastructure from the impacts of intensifying disaster and climate risks. As part of this engagement, under the World Bank’s Vanuatu Infrastructure Reconstruction and Improvement Project (VIRIP), 40 schools have been reconstructed to higher structural safety standards as of 2023. As a result, nearly 5,000 school beneficiaries, including students and teachers, now have access to safer and more resilient learning environments. The government of Vanuatu’s prioritization of investments has been informed by a GPSS-supported assessment of the vulnerability of existing school infrastructure to natural hazards.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, the World Bank, through GPSS, has been engaged with the national government since 2019 on the development and implementation of a national school infrastructure investment plan, which will reduce the vulnerability of school facilities attended by 1.3 million students. As part of this engagement, under the World Bank’s Enhancing Resilience in Kyrgyzstan Project, it is anticipated that 40 school facilities will see improvements in their safety, resilience and functional conditions. The improvements will include civil works to retrofit vulnerable school buildings which will, among others, strengthen their seismic performance. In support of these efforts, 80 local engineers have already been trained in  advanced seismic risk techniques, as well as the design of resilient school buildings.

The World Bank has also supported the development of the Global Library of School Infrastructure (GLOSI). Designed to be used in tandem with the RSRS, GLOSI is the first-ever comprehensive global repository of evidence-based knowledge and data about school infrastructure and their performance against natural hazards. One of the key features of GLOSI is a catalog of typical school building types alongside the respective vulnerability data for each type. Equipped with this data, countries can now map their school facility portfolios with GLOSI to perform the quantitative risk assessments or vulnerability analyses, which are generally needed to identify cost-efficient retrofitting solutions for school infrastructure.


A diverse range of partnerships

The World Bank has built a diverse range of partnerships on the frontlines of the safer and more resilient schools agenda. GPSS has been almost entirely funded by GFDRR and in particular, the Japan-World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries. The GPSS team engages with the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector (GADRRRES), a multi-stakeholder platform comprising United Nations agencies and leading development organizations, to strengthen coordination and knowledge sharing for mainstreaming disaster risk management in the education sector. The World Bank’s partners extend, however, far beyond traditional development organizations, and also include academia and the private sector. For example, GPSS partnered with University College London, the University of Los Andes in Colombia, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Switzerland to develop GLOSI. Esri, a major geographic information system (GIS) software firm, also contributed to GLOSI by providing state-of-the-art GIS technologies to collect and manage school infrastructure data. Meanwhile, in the Pacific, the World Bank has partnered with the local construction industry and with non-governmental organizations such as the Red Cross on the implementation of the Pacific Safer Schools Program, a regional initiative which is part of GPSS. In Tonga, for example, the Red Cross has played a vital role in raising awareness about the importance of good maintenance practices in school communities, thus helping ensure that the resilience-building improvements which were also supported by the program will be sustained over the long-term.

Accelerating progress on safer and more resilient schools

Despite remarkable headway on the safer and more resilient schools agenda thus far, the intensifying impacts of climate change mean that there is a need to accelerate this progress if schools everywhere are to be protected when the next disaster strikes. In recognition of that reality, the World Bank’s Climate Change Action Plan 2021-2025 commits the World Bank to bolster its support for the resilience of school infrastructure. Going forward, a key priority for the World Bank will be to maximize the use of emerging technologies and innovations which can enable safer and more resilient schools on a far greater scale in the years to come. For instance, analytical work is underway to enable the use of artificial intelligence to conduct vulnerability assessments of schools, an approach that holds the potential to lower the cost and time needed to make these assessments, and by extension, to facilitate the planning and implementation of appropriate investments in education infrastructure.

Another key priority for the World Bank will to be to ensure that its support for safer and more resilient schools also fosters inclusive learning environments where students can thrive and learn. For example, the RSRS is currently being refreshed to place a stronger emphasis on addressing pedagogical needs and enhancing learning outcomes in the development of intervention strategies and investment plans for school infrastructure resilience.  

Looking ahead, the World Bank will continue to mobilize its world class knowledge and its financial resources to enable countries to build safer, more resilient, and better learning environments. The Bank hopes development partners will help provide the grant resources needed to reach the next 100 million students in only 3 years. 

How safer and more resilient schools withstood earthquakes in Türkiye

In February 2023, Türkiye was hit by two devastating earthquakes, 7.8 and 7.5 in magnitude. These earthquakes caused an estimated $34.2 billion in direct physical damages, the equivalent of 4 percent of the country’s 2021 GDP. Roughly 1.25 million people were rendered temporarily homeless due to moderate to severe damage or complete building collapse.

Support from the World Bank played a vital role in ensuring that the country’s school infrastructure withstood this disaster.

Since 2017, 62 schools comprising over 1,600 classrooms have been built by the Turkish Ministry of National Education to be safer and more resilient to disasters, with support from the World Bank’s Education Infrastructure for Resilience Project.

Technical and financial assistance provided through the project helped ensure that the constructed schools complied with Turkish codes and regulations on seismic safety, land use planning, energy efficiency, fire protection, workplace safety, and access for people with disabilities.

In a testament to the success of these efforts, every one of the 24 newly constructed schools located in areas affected by the February 2023 earthquakes in Türkiye remained standing after the earthquakes. In the aftermath of the disaster, four of these schools served as temporary shelters, as well as hubs for coordinating essential services.

“Most of the parents came to look at the school. They saw that there is not even the smallest crack or plaster crack in our school,” said Murat Çiçekdal, School Manager for the Martyr Ercan Sanca Primary School. “We continue our educational activities seamlessly [from] where we left before the earthquake.”

Beneficiary quotes 

“As an education guardian and teacher, I feel safe in sending my children to study at this school and I feel safe as a teacher in receiving students and giving classes because I’m certain that even with cyclones, we are safe, these rooms are strong.”

-Regina Chacala, Teacher at a school in Mozambique

“The [Roadmap for Safer Schools] helped us to analyze the capacity of existing infrastructure, estimate school demand and the need for new infrastructure.”

-Diego Quintero, Architect at the Department of Education for the municipality of Cali, Colombia


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