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Urban Risk Management and Resilience

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“Cities are where the climate battle will largely be won or lost. With more than half the world’s population, cities are on the frontlines of sustainable and […] inclusive development.”

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres at the C40 World Mayors Summit

Global urban risk and resilience context

Today, cities occupy 3% of earth’s land but account for 55% of humanity, 70% of GHG emissions, 80% of global GDP and two-third of energy consumption. Nearly 84% of fastest growing cities will account for 90% of urbanization and will face heightened disaster/climate risks with nearly $4tn worth of assets being at risk. Nearly 43% of people in fragile contexts are living in cities, expected to rise to 48% by 2030 and 59% by 2050. In coastal zones, 65% of the global urban population face high exposure to hydro-met disasters, with an increase to 75% by 2025.

Megacities with over 10 million people have risen from 10 in 1991 to 33 in 2018. By 2030, 12 new megacities are projected to emerge, with 24% of people expected to live in informal settlements. The socio-economic disruption due to Covid-19 is estimated to have created 88-115 million “new poor” – more likely to be living in metropolises, where their change of ‘status’ is at risk of invisibilization. An evident shift towards ‘urbanization of risks’ is making risks increasingly systemic with cascading impacts on weaker segments of society, leaving them further behind while undermining developmental sustainability.

Many high-risk cities, especially small and medium-sized ones, are located in challenging development contexts like in LICs, LDCs, LMICs, SIDS and face considerable governance deficits, capacity and resource constraints. More than half of the world’s ‘new’ cities have developed in LICs, LMICs with high population growth and density. Between 1975 and 2015, small cities (less than 1 million) expanded much faster spatially than large metropolitan areas (more than 5 million). While they face similar development challenges and complex risks, their capacity to address them is severely constrained.

Urban resilience: an imperative

Reducing urban risks and strengthening resilience has assumed centrality in the global pursuit of sustainable development. Confluence of people, socio-economic development assets, infrastructure along with the convergence of risks of multiple hues in urban areas, their inter-connected nature and systemic impact presents a context marked by complexity and increasing uncertainty. With over half the humanity already urbanized and likely to be two-thirds by 2050, the focus of development action has gravitated towards urban centers. Yet the inherent risk reduction and resilience-building context has not evolved at commensurate pace and scale.

A decade of strategic and programmatic investments in urban resilience has highlighted unmet demands and emerging resilience-building needs. Several issues continue to frustrate efforts to strengthen resilience in urban areas, despite increased attention being paid to understanding the drivers and interrelationships that propagate risks. Regardless of the imperative, less than half of the cities today have an explicit urban development strategy and barely 15% of these acknowledge climate change, risks and other development challenges.

Risk-Development nexus and 2030 Agenda in cities

Good urban resilience practice uses a systems approach to bring together a collaborative focus on managing risks with development policy, planning and practice. Given that nearly two-third of infrastructure standing in 2050 is yet to be built, there is an opportunity to reduce existing and emerging multi-dimensional urban risks and invest in resilience-building by taking a systems approach i.e. looking at urban services, capacities, resources, institutions, sectors and stakeholders as one whole urban system. Recognizing that risks originate not only within the city limits but also outside the ‘formal’ city, urban resilience should go beyond jurisdictional remit and traditional linear risk understanding to capture the inter-relationships, knock-on effects and consequences of systemic and convergent nature of risks in an urban context.

The 2030 Agenda (SDGs, New Urban Agenda, Sendai Framework for DRR and Paris Agreement) makes a coherent case for placing greater emphasis on risk and resilience in urban planning and governance, as a prerequisite for sustainable development. UNDP Strategic Plan (2022-25) focuses on supporting countries and communities to achieve the aspirational 2030 Agenda through action across structural transformation, leaving no one behind and resilience building. Through its Crisis Offer, UNDP facilitates new development solutions for crisis and fragile contexts and advancing its effective implementation in cities and municipalities.

Strategic priorities for urban resilience

Based on an analytical review of urban resilience’s work by international and regional organizations, UNDP has adopted an Urban Risk Management and Resilience Strategy and identified five Strategic Priorities for policy and programmatic action, focusing on urban resilience through a multidimensional risk reduction and resilience building lens viz.

  1. Focus on neglected geographies where greatest capacity gaps exist such as small, medium and transitioning cities in LDCs, SIDS and LMICs, including cities in or on margins of crisis/fragile contexts, to provide actionable risk analysis and information to support peculiar risk management and resilience building needs.

  2. Strengthen urban governance by bridging the gap between national policy and implementation at the municipal level, and by stepping up engagement with key city interest groups -- Engaging all sectors, stakeholders and interest groups to enhance effectiveness of urban governance and shape urban development through connected policies and collective actions. This will improve decision-making processes by fostering participation and overcoming traditional barriers to address existing risks and prevent creation of newer ones.

  3. Cater to the specific needs and vulnerabilities of weaker segments of urban communities to ensure that no one is left behind -- enhance citizen participation and amplify marginalized voices in decision-making to address intersectional vulnerabilities like poverty, marginalization etc. and improve access of weaker segments to urban services such as health and education, while addressing the circumstances which increase their exposure and vulnerability to small-scale localized incidents as well as growing “everyday” risks.

  4. Strengthen capacities of less-resourced cities to manage multi-dimensional risks through well-financed risk-informed urban development planning and investments and bring these to scale by fostering an enabling environment that aligns public and private finance.

  5. Harness the potential of innovation and digital technologies for resilient urban futures -maximize potential of innovation and digital technology-based solutions to address evolving needs and use methodologies such as Foresight, scenario planning, resilience benchmarking etc. to improve urban services and functionality, including urban planning and crisis management systems. Expertise of UNDP’s Accelerator Labs, SDGs AI Lab, Smart City Innovations will help devise and apply contextual solutions.

Urban resilience city initiatives

With a view to support cities advance urban resilience action in line with the Urban Risk Management and Resilience Strategy, city-level resilience building initiatives were implemented in the cities of

  • Yerevan, Armenia – Focus on constituting a Joint Task Force on urban resilience for Yerevan and pilot DRM+city resilience plans; strengthen multi-hazard EW system and its operational capacities through augmented tech and software support (see documents below).
  • Mogadishu, Somalia – Identify challenges, options and opportunities for building urban resilience and develop a comprehensive urban resilience initiative addressing multiple risks (going beyond disaster/climate risks).
  • Roseau, Dominica – Set-up a City Stakeholder Forum and develop a City Resilience Plan; map fire hazards on GIS to identify potential vulnerable city areas, building typologies, triggers etc.; strengthen city EW and emergency management system (see documents below).
  • Waling, Nepal – Develop urban resilience strategy, strengthen municipal capacity for enforcement of National Building Code and by-laws through e-Building Permit System (e-BPS); regulations for construction in landslide and vulnerable areas; support risk-sensitive land-use planning and mainstream into city development planning (see documents below).
  • Vientiane, Laos – Strengthen disaster/climate risk management systems through institutional focus, foster horizontal and vertical administrative coordination and enhance data analysis for evidence-based risk-informed national and urban development planning.
  • 7 cities in Sahel region – Support to 7 cities in the Sahel region to build capacity of city stakeholders to assess risks by deploying the CityRAP tool and to prioritize actions to address risks as part of city planning.
  • Ain Drahem, Tunisia – Develop a resilience benchmarking approach to monitor and assess progress towards resilience building across key urban services and governance.
  • Skopje, North Macedonia – Integrate DRR-CC into city development and spatial planning to address all aspects of resilience building.
  • Serbia – Map confluences of second-order water streams on selected micro-location in Drina River Basin; guidelines for establishing EWS; develop system specifications for the data acquisition, distribution and early warning software (see documents below).
  • Tetovo, North Macedonia – Strengthen the capacities of the city of Tetovo to apply the CC and DRR nexus approach in the development of the key planning documents (special plans, urban plans, relevant DRR plans, etc.).
  • Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – Assess and mitigate risks from mudflows and floods in the territories of the Bishkek city (see documents below).

Further resources