The World Bank estimates that disasters costs an annual $520 billion and the impoverishment of 24 million people. Last week in Cancun, Mexico, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) updated the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities, providing a set of assessments that will allow local governments to monitor and review progress and challenges in the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction: 2015-2030, and assess how resilient their cities are.
The Sendai Framework was adopted in 2015 in Sendai, a northern Japanese city. It is composed of seven targets and four priorities for action: aiming for the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities, and countries.
Last year, natural disasters took their toll on 445 million people, killing 8,000 of them and contributing in direct economic losses from major disaster events an estimated $138.8 billion. The toolkit, which is supposed to limit these losses, is composed of 10 essentials to follow for making cities resilient and offering a potential for scoring at two levels – preliminary and detailed assessments.
The first essential is to organize for a resilient city to disasters. The toolkit tells the participating city members to design an organizational structure and identify the necessary processes to understand and act on reducing exposure, its impact and vulnerability to disasters to effectively contribute to a city’s development objectives and sustainability. UNISDR also strongly recommends to adopt a holistic approach in understanding the potential threats and managing disaster risk.
The second essential is to identify, understand and use current and future risk scenarios. City councils and authorities should identify and understand their risk, including hazards, exposure and vulnerabilities, and use this knowledge to inform decision makers. Implementation of meaningful disaster risk reduction measures would be ineffective if local governments lack a clear understanding of the risks they face as well as transparency with the public and other stakeholders about risk scenarios.
The third essential is to strengthen financial capacity for resilience. Urban planners and decision makers must understand the economic impact of disasters and the need for investment in resilience. Accordingly, they should identify and develop financial mechanisms that can support resilience activities. Resources can come from city revenues, national distribution and allocations to sectoral departments, public-private partnerships and technical cooperation, as well as civil society and external organizations.
The fourth essential is to pursue resilient urban development and design. According to the toolkit, the built environment needs to be assessed and made resilient as applicable, backed by the risks identified in the second essential. Preemptive measures can help build better resilient capacity, avoid or minimize the disruption and destruction of networks, grids and infrastructure.
Safeguarding natural buffers to enhance ecosystems’ protective functions is the fifth essential in the toolkit. It tells cities to identify, protect and monitor critical ecosystem services that confer a disaster resilience benefit. Nature provides critical services for disaster risk reduction as protective barriers against hazards. This includes water retention or water infiltration, afforestation, urban vegetation, floodplains, sand dunes, mangroves, and other coastal vegetation and pollination. They also encourage the community to withstand, cope with, and recover from disasters through providing many livelihood benefits, such as food, firewood and clean water.
A degraded ecosystem, however, would fail to provide these mitigation and resource benefits, which in turn significantly increases a community’s vulnerability. During urban expansion, cities change in their ecosystems and often create new risks. To reduce risks and contribute to urban resilience and sustainability, it is vital to comprehend the economic value and multiple benefits of healthy ecosystems acting as natural buffers against natural disasters.
To strengthen the institutional capacity for resilience is the sixth essential in the toolkit. The last thing a city needs is a managerial quarrel over a misunderstanding. It is important to enforce a city’s institutional background regarding risk reduction, management and building resilience, since it can help in detecting current gaps in local capacity to coordinate and act towards prevention, mitigation, response and recovery in the case of disasters, as well as identifying the best and most-effective approaches to strengthen relevant institutions for managing disaster risk. Both public and private institutions are involved in risk management in varying capacities. Private companies may include phone, water, energy, healthcare, road operations, waste collection companies, industrial facility owners, operators, building owners, NGOs, volunteer-based initiatives, professional, employers’ and labor organizations and syndicates, cultural institutions, and civil society organizations.
The seventh essential is understanding and strengthening societal capacity for resilience. As citizens are inevitably to take part in the collective effort of creating resilient cities, education, training and public awareness programs are critical and they must also be incorporated into all 10 essentials, according to the toolkit. The entire community must know about the hazards and risks to which they are exposed to so that they are able to predict, and therefore prepare and take measures to cope with potential disasters. Education and capacity building programs are also the key for mobilizing citizens’ and community’s participation in the city’s disaster management strategies.
The eighth essential is to increase infrastructure resilience. The toolkit tells cities to assess the capacity, adequacy and linkage between critical infrastructure systems, and to upgrade infrastructure as necessary according to the risks identified in the second essential. Critical infrastructure required for city operation includes services that carry out essential functions both during and after a disaster. This may include transport (i.e.: roads, rail, airports, and other ports), vehicle and heating fuel suppliers, telecommunication systems, utilities systems, hospitals and healthcare facilities, educational institutes and school facilities, food supply chain, police, and fire services.
The ninth essential in the toolkit is to ensure effective disaster response. A well-conceived emergency preparedness and response plan saves lives and property, and by lessening the impact of a disaster, it contributes to resilience and post-disaster recovery. Preparedness efforts, early warning systems and communication systems should make sure that cities, communities and individuals threatened by natural or other hazards act in sufficient time and appropriately to mitigate the damage caused by the disaster. Sustainability can be achieved if the community – hand-in-hand with the local authorities – understands the importance of and need for local emergency preparedness and response.
Last but not least, the tenth essential is to expedite recovery and build back better. A well-planned and participatory recovery and reconstruction process helps the city reactivate itself, restore, and rebuild its damaged infrastructure and recover its economy, empowering citizens to rebuild their lives, housing and livelihoods. Rebuilding must begin as soon as possible – actually, the toolkit suggests cities to predict the needs, establish operational mechanisms and by that pre-assign resources before a disaster. Since cities are built by many entities over long periods of times, it is difficult to rebuild them in a short period of time – not to mention the never-ending struggle between those who want to rebuild quickly and those who want to rebuild safely and sustainably. Recovery and rehabilitation can be planned ahead of the disaster to a considerable degree and that would be a compromise to defeat this tension.
UNISDR noted the success of the Philippine provincial government of Albay, which established a permanent disaster risk management office in 1995 to deal with the high risk of typhoons, floods, landslides, and earthquakes. Disaster risk reduction in Albay was institutionalized, funded properly, and genuinely mainstreamed into local government planning and programs, making it clear that disaster reduction was a formal and permanent priority within regular planning, governance and local government programs. UNISDR finds Albay’s disaster prevention, preparedness and responsiveness well-coordinated and no casualties have have resulted in 15 of the last 17 years – with the exception of 2006 when a massive typhoon occurred killing 1,266 people, including 740 missing and presumed dead, as well as the exception of 2011.