Interview with Maryvonne Plessis-Fraissard

Maryvonne Plessis-Fraissard has had a long career in the World Bank. Currently, she is Senior Advisor in the Vice President Office of the Sustainable Development Network.

Between 2003 and 2006, she was Director for Transport and Urban Development and, in that capacity, was responsible for policy development and implementation, staffing and capacity in these sectors, as well as representing the World Bank among partners and in a number of technical and global partnerships.

She held several managerial and technical positions in Infrastructure, Transport and Urban and Regional Development, which also included operational responsibilities in post-conflict and post-disaster reconstruction, social funds, employment and emergency programmes, and the Health and Education sectors. These responsibilities spanned over 50countries in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. 


Maryvonne Plessis-Fraissard


Ms Plessis-Fraissard was born in Caen, France, in 1951. She holds a Master’s degree in Quantitative Geography from Paris VII University and a PhD in Geography from Leeds (United Kingdom). She is married with three children.

What is the relationship of the World Bank with WMO?

WMO has the specialized technical capacity and the mandate from the international community to lead and norm in matters of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs). The World Bank, on the other hand, is a development lender, called upon by its client countries to help build capacity and systems to address the sum of issues arising from their development agenda.

The World Bank helps develop a coherent package of policies and actions to reduce poverty, and enhance the creation of wealth in a sustainable fashion. The World Bank therefore relies on the specialized know-how of institutions such as WMO for technical input, advice and normative guidance on specialized matters. The World Bank may contribute to placing NMHSs within the overall global development agenda. For example, national attention and financing of NMHSs needs to be calibrated to the capacity of their services and those of users.

The World Bank can help government prioritize NMHS services in view of their inputs in the appropriate functioning of central and local government and public services, as well as private economic activities. In particular, the World Bank may help a client country sort out the public from the private value of NMHS benefits in order to define its financing policy for NMHS. It can help client countries institutionalize the link between NMHS and weather-sensitive economic activities and, importantly, civil defence and disaster prevention.

In your view, in which areas should/could WMO and NMHSs play a more active role in the future to contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?

WMO and NMHS have an increasingly important role to play in contributing to achieving the MDGs, yet this role needs to evolve as technology advances.

NMHSs have a more and more important role to play in sustainable development for two complementary reasons:

  • The tremendous increase of vulnerability to catastrophes, especially of the poorest population is expected to continue because of rapid and accelerating urbanization and the proliferation of human settlements on fragile lands and near the sea coasts;
  • The perspectives of climate change require careful attention by NMHSs not only at a global level, but also at national and community level, so that appropriate attention can be given to adaptation to changing conditions.


At the same time, the role of WMO and NMHSs should evolve to tackle the gap between improved technology and stagnating local and national capacities to disseminate and use meteorological and hydrological services. There is an accelerated improvement in global knowledge, enhancement of the technical potential of NMHSs to produce and new financial options for production and dissemination of meteorological and hydrological information.

At the same time, the role of WMO and NMHSs should evolve to tackle the gap between improved technology and stagnating local and national capacities to disseminate and use meteorological and hydrological services. There is an accelerated improvement in global knowledge, enhancement of the technical potential of NMHSs to produce and new financial options for production and dissemination of meteorological and hydrological information.


Maryvonne Plessis-Fraissard



At the same time, the role of WMO and NMHSs should evolve to tackle the gap between improved technology and stagnating local and national capacities to disseminate and use meteorological and hydrological services. There is an accelerated improvement in global knowledge, enhancement of the technical potential of NMHSs to produce and new financial options for production and dissemination of meteorological and hydrological information.

Yet, the actual potential of national and local governments and communities to receive relevant and timely meteorological and hydrological information and to use it for disaster prevention and sustainable development has not increased in a commensurate fashion. This major challenge is shared by WMO, NMHSs and the development community. It requires increasing collaboration with public and private, specialized and development partners.

The necessary balance between economic development and climate/environment is often discussed. Consequently, the concept of sustainable development has become a real challenge. How has the World Bank incorporated this matter in the partnership with its clients, especially emerging States?

This is a big question! In a nutshell, the World Bank has sought to bring together the need to deliver infrastructure services and to manage natural resources for long-term benefits. Until the 1990s, the emphasis of the World Bank infrastructure was largely focused on the nuts and bolts of infrastructure production. Today, the institution is giving more attention to infrastructure services, accessibility, affordability and inclusiveness of water, energy, transport and other services. Ensuring natural resources and environmental conditions for future growth has assumed a higher priority: energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management services, urban environment and ecosystems are now central to growth strategies and project analyses.

It continues to be the case that, in many countries, especially emerging states and middle income countries, the key constraint is not financial but the need to build institutions able to work in partnerships with the private sector and across a wide array of issues to address the complexity of the challenge of effectiveness, inclusiveness and sustainability. The World Bank seeks to serve as a catalyst in this process of change and is often called upon to initiate or support partnership efforts.

Adaptation to climate change implies investment and planning and this matter is more difficult in the Least Developed Countries. Could you explain us how the World Bank is involved in this process?

Capacity to manage risks and adapt to changes is closely associated with the level of development. So you are right to say that the challenge of adaptation is more difficult to address in least developed countries. The Bank seeks to support this process at several complementary and reinforcing levels: firstly, at global level, through participation in partnerships and the use of specialized global programmes, such as the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility in support of public-private partnerships, or the Global Environment Facility; secondly, through country support, with policy dialogue, assistance to Country Assistance Strategies and financing of corresponding programmes and projects; thirdly, the World Bank gives attention to local government capacity which has a critical role to play in safety and adaptation: Cities Alliance, co-founded with UN-Habitat, supports city development strategies and works towards the goal of cities without slums. Finally and importantly, the World Bank seeks to support community-based development with large financing of Community-Driven Development activities.

It is only with the cumulative attention at the global, national, local and community levels that mitigation of climate change, disaster risk management and adaptation will be effectively developed.

In our societies which are dependent on weather, climate and water, how is the socio-economic value of meteorological and hydrological services appreciated by the World Bank? How can this be calculated?

A number of excellent presentations on the value of meteorological services in specific contexts were shared during the WMO International Conference on Secure and Sustainable Living: Social and Economic Benefits of Weather, Climate and Water Services (Madrid, Spain, March 2007). Many emphasized the importance of the private sector contribution, the leadership of the insurance industry in pricing risks and the willingness to pay as a measure of the commercial value of information.

At a global level, the modelling of hazard risks in macro-economic projections shows that catastrophes impact real per capita income and slow or stall the reduction of poverty. These specific and global findings and the sustained demand for disaster reconstruction and prevention financing testify of the importance of meteorological and hydrological services.

The issue of disaster prevention and mitigation is becoming more and more important. How involved is the World Bank in this effort?

As a lead development institution, the World Bank commits substantial resources each year for reconstruction after disasters. As the impact of disasters—and mostly of weather related disasters—continues to increase, the World Bank is committed to mainstream disaster reduction and recovery as part of the poverty reduction agenda.

Risk management, and especially weather-related risk management for the protection of people and their livelihoods is becoming an essential part of poverty-assistance strategies and development plans.

For this reason, the World Bank last year launched the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). The GFDRR is designed to foster and strengthen global and regional cooperation among various stakeholders under the ISDR system, such as developing and middle-income country governments, international financial institutions, UN agencies, academic institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector, to leverage country systems and programmes in ex ante disaster reduction. It promotes global and regional partnerships in developing new tools, practical approaches and other instruments for disaster reduction. It fosters an enabling environment at the country level that can generate greater investment in disaster mitigation practices within a sustainable legal, policy, financial and regulatory framework. The GFDRR facilitates knowledge- sharing in reducing disaster risks and creating adaptive capacities for limiting the impact of climate change. It also seeks to mainstream hazard- risk management in the 86 low- and moderate-income countries most prone to disasters.

Let’s take a concrete example, a feasibility study project of the World Bank, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and WMO: “Meteorological and hydrological information sharing-status, needs and capacity-building in south- eastern Europe”, which is currently underway. What does the World Bank intend to emphasize in support of the implementation of this initiative?

This is an innovative programme that is responding well to the special circumstances of the region. It is likely to yield experience and lessons relevant to other regions, and to do so at a time when the demand for disaster-reduction and climate change mitigation programmes is rapidly growing. However, the World Bank responds to the requirements of its client countries and, in that respect, its intentions will be set by the requirements of its partners.

In this rapidly changing world, could you say how the World Bank is changing or adapting its prospective for crucial development needs related to weather, climate and water in different parts of the planet?

The World Bank has taken major steps and has reorganized its technical departments to better place sustainable development at the heart of its agenda. It has also consolidated its work on water in order to take a holistic approach to the social dimension of access to clean water and sanitation services and the ecological aspects of water-resource management and ecosystems. On these complex agendas, climate and its expected changes, water management, weather-related information and the monitoring of extreme weather events are important dimensions.

In what areas and geographical regions could the partnership of the World Bank and WMO be enhanced and improved?

The greatest challenges and most urgent needs today are in sub-Saharan Africa. This is a region where WMO and the World Bank could work at developing meteorological and hydrological services, and their use by communities, partners and governments for disaster prevention and sustainable development. Yet the demand and commitment of decision- makers are critical to effective action. WMO and the World Bank should seek to be responsive to the request from partners and clients, wherever they are.



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