Urban Resilience: 'Cooperation and Knowing the Risks Are Key'
How Asia's Megacities can Bounce Back From Sudden Disasters
Asia is urbanizing at breathtaking speed. Of the 47 cities that are defined as ‘megacities’, meaning they have a population of more than 10 million people, two-thirds are in Asia.
More people in cities, also means more potential victims when disasters like earthquakes, sudden floods, or major industrial accidents strike. In this event, the second of two in a series on Urban Resilience in Asia, experts weighed in on what the challenges are for Asia's cities to prepare and build resilience, allowing them to bounce back quickly after a sudden shock. And: where solutions can be found.
Here are our key takeaways from the event. Watch the full event in the video at the top.
It’s flooding, typhoons, heat, and old building codes
- Urban areas worldwide are adding 1.4 million people per week. Global average annual loss from disasters in the built environment can increase to USD 415 billion by 2030, almost double from what it was in 2018.
- The changing climate increases the intensity of typhoons and hurricanes, and changes coastal and river flooding. Increasing heat also has an ongoing impact. Every degree above 29 increases mortality in Asian cities by 6 percent.
- Building codes need to be updated to reflect the need for increased resilience against higher intensity events. Many buildings in for example Manila are 80-90 years old. Retrofitting them to current resilience standards is one of the big World Bank projects in the Philippines.
Good governance and planning are key
- Asian cities are growing organically. It’s key to know where the informal settlements are and make adaptation to climate change very locally oriented.
- It’s necessary to encourage climate-smart urban planning, incentivizing comprehensive thinking on land use, green spaces, density, mobility, energy efficient buildings, and low-carbon government services as waste management and street lighting.
- This needs to be embedded in good governance. If you don’t have proper institutional arrangements, it doesn’t work. A city like Manila, for example, isn’t planning in a collaborative way with different responsible parties working together. It’s impossible to manage risks that way.
Knowing risks is key to changing direction
- There are more people living in cities today than there were on Earth in 1980. Growth is being absorbed mostly in coastal cities, vulnerable to sea level rise and storms. Cities need to understand how their risk is changing and know what the future will bring.
- By using tools that help cities understand where they’re heading, they get empowered to change direction. If they know what risks they face, they can really start reducing those risks. That’s a huge incentive for local decision-makers and a big help to put cities on a more resilient path.
- To build back after a disaster, you not only need to look at infrastructure, but also at social dynamics that influence recovery. How are factors like poverty, remoteness, and gender inequality affecting the ability of a community to recover?
Learn from successes amid a catastrophe
- If there’s a success in increasing resilience, no one knows about it. A destructive flood is news. Destruction that has been avoided is not. In 2019, cyclone Fani was the largest to hit India in 20 years. Only 22 people lost their lives, because the government had put in place a very successful evacuation program. In a comparable storm in 1999, thousands died. In Nepal, none of the retrofitted schools suffered any damage in an earthquake and none of the students in them died.
- We have to learn from these positive lessons amid a catastrophe. Celebrating success in disaster risk management is necessary to share, learn, and scale solutions.
Stay in touch
- The streets of Karachi are frequently turned into raging rivers, as the southwest monsoon is inundating the desert city as never before. Despite that, the city is able to bounce back and more importantly: it does not stop functioning during the flooding.
- Food keeps coming into the city via three key access points, manufactured products are going out keeping trade alive, and banks and the stock exchange are often up and running within a day. This all happens because the different parties involved, from transport companies to wholesalers, welfare organizations, and government agencies now form an informal network of cooperation. They used to operate separately from each other. The floods have brought them closer together, allowing them to coordinate and keep the city functioning.
Only people stand in the way
- The only time in 75 years that Karachi was brought down to its knees, was during political violence in late 2007. That’s when deliberate acts from people prevented food and water from coming into the city. Only after a consensus was worked out between the warring parties, things started working again.
Long-term investing versus short-term fixing
- Local officials must weigh addressing a problem of the future against meeting an immediate need of the electorate. Is it cheaper to just deal with an annual flood, or to put infrastructure in place to prevent future disaster? Private sector parties, like Swiss Re, help governments with that discussion providing data and analytics that help them understand the risks and plan for potential disasters.
A shift in how companies approach resilience
- Typically, the focus is on incidents, but now longer-term risks are getting increasing attention. Companies are not disconnected from the community. If your workers can’t get to the plant after a disaster, you as a company can’t work.
- Instead of focusing on hazard, focus on exposure – the areas where you’re vulnerable. When you become aware of risks, you start thinking more in long-term perspectives.
High segregation and fuzzy boundaries
- 'Enclaved urbanism’ is a long-term risk that’s slowly coming into focus. Asian cities are starting to get highly segregated. This makes it uncertain how cities will react during disaster or social unrest, because within one city some (richer) communities will be resilient while others are out in the open.
- Another challenge to build resilience for fast-growing megacities is: who do you call if you want to speak to that city? Where does the city stop? The boundaries are never as set as those of a nation state. That’s why it’s also important to look at small-scale solutions, for example putting food on tables after a disaster, and not just consider big infrastructure projects.
Madhu Raghunath is the Sector Leader for Sustainable Development for the Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand (BMPT) Program at the World Bank since September 2019. She covers six global practices that includes Agriculture and Food; Environment, Natural Resources and Blue Economy; Social Development; Urban Development and Disatser Risk Management and Water. Madhu has more than 18 years of experience in the Bank working on analytical, advisory and lending operations in several countries in MNA, EAP and LAC regions. She brings in strong multi-sectoral experience having worked in various sectors in the Bank including urban development, disaster risk management, urban water supply and sanitation, land and urban transport. Prior to joining the BMPT program, she was the Program Leader for Vietnam where she coordinated the SD and Infrastructure Portfolio totaling US$6.9 billion.
Before joining the Bank, Madhu worked with AFL-CIO and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has a Master’s in City Planning from MIT and Masters in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
David Lallemant’s research focuses on understanding and quantifying the evolution of extreme risk in today’s growing cities. He uses hazard modeling, engineering analysis, predictive modeling and spatial statistics for application in large-scale natural disaster risk analysis. The transdisciplinary and policy-oriented nature of his work has led him to build collaborations with the World Bank, Google, the Red Cross, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, the Natural Capitals Project and others.
David holds a PhD from Stanford University, a master’s degree from UC Berkeley (2010) and bachelor’s degree from MIT (2007). David co-founded the Stanford Urban Resilience Initiative and the Co-Risk Labs consultancy group.
David is also active in post-disaster response and recovery, which forms the basis for his research on post-disaster assessment and community resilience. He worked for two years in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and has been involved with the response and recovery following the Christchurch earthquake and recent earthquake in Nepal.
Arif Hasan is an award-winning Pakistani architect and planner, activist, teacher, social researcher, writer and former Fellow with the International Institute of Environment and Development
Arif Hasan is a Pakistani architect and planner, activist, teacher, social researcher, writer and former Fellow with the International Institute of Environment and Development. He studied architecture at the Oxford Polytechnic, worked in Europe in architect’s offices, and on his return to Karachi in 1968, established an independent practice which slowly evolved into dealing with national and international urban planning and development issues. He has taught at Pakistani and European universities and lectured widely both in the North and the South.
This event was organised together with Swiss Re Institute.