UN resilience

Posted on March, 01 2012

Global campaigns for making cities resilient 

Global campaigns for making cities resilient

“Making Cities Resilient” is a global campaign by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR). It aims to get cities to sign up to systematically reduce urban risks from disasters. Resilience can be defined as the ability of a system, e.g. a city and its services, to withstand and recover from hazards.

Keywords: disaster preparedness, resilience, Hyogo Framework

The 2010-11 “Making Cities Resilient” campaign built on earlier UN campaigns for safe schools and hospitals, and disaster reduction education. The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 focuses on empowering communities and local authorities with necessary information, resources, and authority to reduce and manage risks from disasters. It also builds on the sustainable urbanisation principles developed in the UN-Habitat World Urban Campaign 2009-2013. A checklist of “Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient” includes
  • putting organization and coordination, e.g. local alliances, in place to anticipate and reduce disaster risk
  • assessing the safety of health facilities and schools
  • giving attention to infrastructure and buildings
  • protecting ecosystems and making or restoring other natural buffers for mitigating floods, storm surges, or other natural hazards

Agenda-setting and partners
Two key prongs in the UNISDR strategy are: bringing disaster preparation to the top of agendas, and forming large networks of alliances and partnerships among different levels of government, civil society, the private sector, academia, etc. The latter is also one way to overcome lack of awareness or capacities among local governments.

Preventing “Failed cities”
Failure of basic life support systems – water, health or energy – translates to a “failed city”, parallel to the concept of a “failed state”. The vulnerability of cities is particularly important, as with increased urbanisation cities are national lifelines – the concentrated centres of economic, cultural, research, and innovation activities in a society. Yet rapid urbanisation makes cities more vulnerable to natural hazards. Cities’ infrastructure – e.g. storm drainage and building quality – and services may be outdated and insufficient to handle growth in both populations and extreme weather events. Informal settlement is often on unsafe land: around a billion people lived in slums in 2011. The natural buffers provided by the surrounding ecosystems may no longer be effective, as urban land development reduces the function of these ecosystems.

These problems of urban governance, for example unplanned development, are made worse by lack of disaster preparedness. The UNISDR cites the evident lack of a systematic approach to disaster preparedness as motivation for its current efforts. This is especially crucial given the onset of global warming and related climate changes that are predicted to significantly increase weather-related risks for human settlements.

Many goals achieved at once
The extreme urgency of disaster-preparedness is a plus for environmental goals. Increasing a city’s resilience can be integrated with reducing ecological footprints and conserving greenspace and biodiversity (see also Berlin, Melbourne and New Orleans). These goals can be combined when slums are upgraded, buildings are retrofitted for energy efficiency and safety, and infrastructure for water, transport, and energy is adjusted and upgraded (see also Chengdu and Lubumbashi). Similarly, resilience can be integrated with environmental sustainability goals in efforts to strengthen governance capacity and civil society, and when popular and school education programmes are designed and launched.

In general, the UN argues that sustainable urbanisation and disaster-risk reduction overlap significantly. Together they promote poverty reduction, better education, employment, social equity, economic expansion, and protection of ecosystems. Critically, there are possibilities to “leapfrog” to currently leading-edge infrastructure solutions. In the case of certain kinds of infrastructure like water infrastructure, the horizon for calculating risks and resilience needs to be for a lifespan of hundreds of years.

Mike Muller, 2007, “Adapting to climate change: water management for urban resilience”, Environment & Urbanization (International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)), 99 Vol 19(1): 99–113

UNISDR (United Nations secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction), “Strategy Outline for the 2010-2011 World Disaster Reduction Campaign on Making Cities Resilient, addressing urban risk”, March 2010

UNISDR (United Nations secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction), “Local Governments and Disaster Risk Reduction – Good Practices and Lessons Learned”, Geneva, Switzerland, March 2010

Text by: Aaron Thomas

The United Nations Secretariat Building at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, United States of America.
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Map UN
Karen Blixen overflow plenary room, COP 15, United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark
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