Making Cities Resilient and the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction

Jerry Velasquez (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Geneva, Switzerland)

International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment

ISSN: 1759-5908

Article publication date: 9 February 2015



Velasquez, J. (2015), "Making Cities Resilient and the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction", International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, Vol. 6 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Making Cities Resilient and the post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction

Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment, Volume 6, Issue 1

The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015: Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters (HFA) was adopted by member states in 2005 as the blueprint for reducing disaster risks globally. Since 2007, countries have been using the HFA Monitor to report on the progress made in disaster risk reduction (DRR). There has been a gradual process in all regions, across all the Priorities for Action of the HFA. In particular, strengthening countries’ institutional, legislative and policy frameworks, early warning, disaster preparedness for response, as well as risk assessment, education, research and fostering public awareness and a common understanding of disaster risk have shown progress.

On one hand, HFA can take credit for reducing mortality linked to hydro- meteorological disasters, yet it is clear that we are making little headway in dealing with economic losses caused by the same disasters, which, we will see later on, are driven by the backlog of risk built up by the political, economic and environmental forces which have been driving human progress at present – development and climate change.

The trend of reduced mortality is proof that development investments in activities such as early warning, preparedness and contingency planning yield positive gains if invested in reducing vulnerability of people and communities.

However, countries have been more challenged to factor DRR into public investment, land-use planning, infrastructure projects, environmental management and social policies, which are the activities under HFA Priority for Action 4 on reducing the underlying risk drivers and tackling the causes of risk creation.

For example, we are now facing an increasing and unmitigated trend of economic losses due to disasters on the public and private sectors. For the first time, globally, annual economic losses from disasters exceeded $100 billion for three consecutive years ($138 billion in 2010, $371 billion in 2011 and $138 billion in 2012). During these past 13 years of record-breaking temperatures and rainfall, we have seen economic losses reach $1.7 trillion.

It is also obvious that as human exposure increases, and as nations and communities get better at reducing vulnerability, reaching the last quintile of losses with programmes such as “zero-casualty” will lead to efforts of increasing costs. Increased intensity and unpredictability of hazards also contribute to this trend of increasing costs of reducing vulnerability because of the need for new technologies and equipment.

From experience over the past decade, it is increasingly clear that a strategy mainly focused on reducing vulnerability to natural hazards will not be sufficient to arrest the creation of future risks. The models and approaches promoted through the HFA and the follow-up by the DRR community of practice has been rather effective in dealing with vulnerability reduction, and thus, with further concerted efforts, resources and time, it might possibly deal with most of the existing stock of risks. The present evidence and models, however, suggests that reduction vulnerability to natural hazards may not be capable or even suitable to deal with exposure reduction and the subsequent economic losses it creates. We therefore need to review the existing strategy to arrest the creation of future risks.

The world is steadily becoming more urban, and although the level of urbanization is far higher in the developed world, the annual “urbanization rate” is much faster in the developing world. Not surprisingly, the primary urban agglomerations with the highest concentrations of people and economic activity mostly overlap with the areas of extreme or high risks related to disasters such as coastal areas, along rivers and in flood plains.

The 2011 World Urbanization Prospects highlighted that approximately 890 million people were living in areas of high risk of exposure, with most of them from cities in Latin America, in Northern America and, especially, in Asia. Flooding is the most frequent and greatest hazard that affects cities or urban agglomerations; at least 250 cities are located in or are close to areas with high risk of flooding – potentially affecting 663 million inhabitants.

To respond to some of these challenges, the Making Cities Resilient Campaign was launched in 2010 with the main objective to engage the local government and city officials in the tasks of reducing disaster risks and build resilient cities and communities. The principles of the campaign are established on a vision of disaster-resilient cities as condition for sustainable urban development, underpinned by effective decentralization, strategic urban planning and participatory approaches involving citizens, communities, private sector and academia.

The main achievements and the activities that supported these achievements during the five years of the Campaign include raised awareness among local chief executives on the importance of DRR action at the local level through high-profile local and national sign-up events. More than 2,200 cities and local governments have “signed up” to the Campaign by November 2014. The Campaign also identified a dedicated group of local champions willing to share their experiences and sound practices on local DRR implementation. At present, there are 23 Role Model cities that have been designated, as well as 12 individual Champions who have pledged to lend their support to promote the campaign objectives among their peers. There are also 17 advocates. There have been numerous experience sharing among city representatives and partners through focused discussion on local DRR issues at international and city-specific events and meetings, including the (UN General Assembly thematic events and to the World Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). There has been increased self-reflection among city officials on their work on DRR through the development of the Campaign Guide – the “Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient checklist, the Handbook for Local Government Leaders, the Local HFA Government Self-Assessment Tool”. This formed the basis for a baseline tool online (the Local Government Self-Assessment or LG-SAT) and offline for local officials to assist them in reviewing, planning work on DRR in their localities, and the Urban Resilience Scorecard, which is a more in-depth analytical tool that can help cities develop resilience action plans.

In addition, there is systematic collation of examples of progress in implementation and sound practices, through the publication of the “Making Cities Resilient Report 2012: A global snapshot of how local governments reduce disaster risk[1].” The Report also identified key “enabling factors” for building urban resilience and areas of priorities for the future. A platform for dialogue among local officials and partners, through the development and use of an Internet list serve[2], which functions as the main communication tool among Campaign cities and partners. A multi-stakeholder supporting body in the form of the Campaign Steering Committee that provided guidance and technical expertise to UNISDR in developing the Campaign content, activities and tools.

Support mechanism to participating local governments is through formalized cooperation with more than 45 global partner organizations and numerous regional and national organizations. These organizations apply and promote Campaign tools and principles in their core work. Strengthen local capacities and partnerships through capacity development for participating local government representatives. These learning programmes include the development of capacity development modules, and training programmes and the documentation of DRR sound practice activities at the local level. There have been pilot initiatives to promote local DRR action through the encouragement of peer-to-peer support among local officials. This was done through a number of “city to city” cooperation initiatives and workshops leading to strengthened local government collaboration, promotion of innovative implementation approaches and knowledge sharing.

The Campaign work was guided by the recommendations of the Advisory Group, Partnership meetings and the findings of the Making Cities Resilient Report 2012.

This Journal special issue is based on the “State of DRR at the Local Level” – A 2015 Report on the Patterns of Disaster Risk Reduction Actions at Local Level, a first attempt to establish an evidence base from local data to inform decision-making. It aims to consolidate available knowledge on the patterns of disaster risk reduction actions, and analyses of what enables successful practices at the local level. It also serves as a basis for developing the HFA2 implementation plan at the local level after the WCDR3, which will serve as an evidence base for inclusion of a stronger “local government voice” in HFA2. It will also try to serve as an inspiration on “how to do effective DRR” at the local level, as stakeholders consider means of strengthening implementation of HFA2.

This special issue will be launched at the UN World conference on Disaster Risk Reduction to be held in Sendai City, Japan, from March 14 to 18, 2015. UNISDR Chief Margareta Wahlström said:

The 3rd World Conference provides us with a rare opportunity to forge universal agreement on how to build disaster resilience across all sectors of society. It is particularly important that we have a strong urban focus as we expect 75 per cent of the world’s population to be living in towns and cities by 2050.

It is the intention that this themed issue will contribute toward achieving this mission.

The themes covered in the special issue include local patterns of risks, local actions on DRR and central policies for enabling local DRR actions, local disaster resilience and sound practices of local DRR. This themed issue is a continuation of IJDRBE’s relationship with the Making Cities resilient campaign. IJDRBE aims at developing the skills and knowledge of the built environment professions and will strengthen their capacity in strategic and practical aspects of making cities resilient to disasters.

This issue includes six research papers that contribute to the discussion on how to make cities more resilient. In the first paper, Christine Wamsler and Ebba Brink explore the role of individual adaptive practices for sustainable adaptation. The paper provides an overview of Swedish citizens’ adaptive practices and highlights how institutional development efforts affect individuals and their activities, including the equitable distribution of adaptation needs and resources.

Richard M. Friend, Pakamas Thinphanga, Ken MacClune, Justin Henceroth, Phong Tran and Tuyen Nghiem reviews urban transformations and changing patterns of local risk: lessons from the Mekong Region. He paper illustrates the significance of the systems and services on which urbanization depends – water, food, energy, transport, communications – to consider cascading impacts at multiple scales often beyond the administrative boundaries of cities, and how vulnerabilities and risks are distributed unevenly across different groups of people.

Namrata Bhattacharya-Mis, Rotimi Joseph, David Proverbs and Jessica Lamond consider flood risk among residential and commercial property holders and impact of preparedness by communities reduces the impact of the risks. The paper explores how greater understanding of the level of preparedness against different types of flood impacts contribute toward increased knowledge of the likely resilience of residential and commercial property occupiers.

Maria Risom Laursen reviews community-based disaster risk management in Nepal and explores from a social constructive point of view the relationship among international, national, and local actors in the effort to conduct disaster risk reduction in Nepal through a community-based approach. It looks at how different risk perceptions of experts, institutions and laymen have to be taken into consideration to include communities in DRR.

Justin Henceroth, Richard Friend, Pakamas Thinphanga, Tran Van Giai Phong and Nghiem Phuong Tuyen then looks at the lessons from local government self-assessments within urban climate resilience programs in Thailand and Vietnam. The paper specifically looks at how self-assessments like the UNSIDR LGSAT can be used to engage city stakeholders in critically assessing and understanding their capacity according to a set of standards of resilience.

Finally, in the last paper, Chamindi Malalgoda, Dilanthi Amaratunga and Richard Haigh consider the need to empower local governments in promoting disaster-resilient built environment in urban cities. The paper presents the challenges faced by the Sri Lankan municipalities in creating a disaster-resilient built environment and provides recommendations to empower municipalities to effectively contribute to city resilience.

Jerry Velasquez, Head of Advocacy and Outreach, UNISDR, Geneva, Switzerland




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