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Urban Resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction on the road to the second Hyogo Framework for Action: Insights from the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction

by Petros Theodorou

This piece touches upon two issues. Firstly, it seeks to highlight the necessity of urgent action in Asia in terms of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) by a brief presentation of facts and numbers. It goes on to detail the seven calls of the Bangkok Declaration on DRR which were adopted in the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) on the path to the Hyogo Framework of Action 2 (HFA 2). Secondly, it emphasizes the issue of resilience through a synopsis of a special session about resilience in Asia that took place during the Conference, followed by a personal reflection on the narrative.

“There is no finish line. Resilience is an ongoing process.” 

Yukimoto Ito,

Sendai vice mayor

From June 22nd to 24th, nearly 3,000 delegates from more than 40 countries in Asia and the Pacific participated in the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (6th AMCDRR), hosted by the Royal Thai Government in collaboration with United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in Bangkok. Held on a biennial basis since 2005[1], this year’s conference was anticipated with special interest and high ambitions, as it was the final regional inter-governmental meeting in Asia before the completion of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA) and the 3rd UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in 2015. In this context, the 6th AMCDRR provided a platform for countries, organizations and individual practitioners to meet and discuss the way forward in the DRR sector for the region, with a view to the adoption of a new global agreement on DRR which will replace the current Hyogo Framework for Action.

During recent years the concept of resilience has arisen as a buzzword used by academics, national environmental policy stakeholders, prime ministers, city mayors, urban-planners, climate diplomats, humanitarian organizations, representatives of indigenous populations and many others. Even the new 5th IPCC Assessment includes a long and detailed urban chapter. While the HFA is reaching the end of its time frame, the consultation process for the HFA 2 has already shifted the emphasis from ‘reducing vulnerability’ to ‘building -or strengthening- resilience’. Hence the title of the 6th AMCDRR “Promoting Investments for Resilient Nations and Communities” comes as no surprise, confirming this shift and implying the need for more decentralized environmental governance and promotion of multi-stakeholder platforms.

 

1. DRR: the Asian context and the Bangkok Declaration for action

It was last November, just before the UNFCCC COP-19, when the typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines claiming nearly 6,300 lives, destroying more than 1 million houses and leaving a total of almost 2 billion US dollars worth of damages (NDRRMC). This catastrophic event in Asia once again stirred up the debate about climate change impacts, DRR and resilience. As a matter of fact, nine of the world’s ten most significant disaster events in 2013, including typhoons, floods, heat waves and earthquakes, occurred in the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Japan and China, where the casualties reached 14,500. The Philippines, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Australia combined reported economic losses totalling US$50 million. The overwhelming majority of the 95 million people whose lives were disrupted by disasters worldwide last year live in Asia (trust.org). These staggering numbers bring nothing but sadness and concern, underscoring the true importance of effective integrated DRR strategies.

As the Head of the UNISDR, Margareta Wahlstrom, stated prior to the 6th AMCDRR that “many countries are forced to spend far too much of their budgets on disaster response, meeting the emergency needs of affected people and, in the longer term, repairing roads, schools, health facilities and critical infrastructure which should have been disaster-proof in the first place. If a percentage of response and recovery money were invested wisely in urban planning and land use to reduce the population’s exposure to risk, then the long-term savings would be significant. For every $1 invested in disaster risk reduction, the long-term savings are at least $4 to $8 – more money that can be spent on education, health and job creation” (trust.org). This statement illustrates the need for risk-sensitive investments at national government level. This is actually reflected on the second call to action of the Bangkok Declaration.

One outcome of the AMCDRR was the Bangkok Declaration on DRR in Asia and the Pacific, which was adopted on the 26th of June 2014. Being in the transition period from the end of HFA 1 to the HFA 2, the discussions for the Bangkok declaration will start in Japan in 2015.

The declaration adopted seven calls to action for government and stakeholders:

          #1 To enhance resilience at local levels.

National governments should provide more capacity to local authorities. Special focus should be given to community-development building through supportive community-driven plans as “every individual/community has its own resilience.” Also, attention should be paid to vulnerable groups, such as children, people with disabilities, the elderly and indigenous communities.

          #2 To improve public investments for disaster and climate risk management to sustain development gains.

There is a need for development planning that includes risk-sensitive investments at inter-sectorial levels and by every level of government. Therefore, risk information should be encompassed in development plans along with the consideration of the benefits of financial protection strategies into budget planning.

          #3 To increase public and private partnerships in DRR.

Special focus should be on the development of regulations and incentives for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). This revolves around sharing responsibility, especially at local levels and promoting “creative partnerships” within a resilient operation environment.

          #4 To promote further use of science and technology and innovation in DRR.

Technological and scientific advances should be translated into simpler language and communicated likewise.

          #5 To enhance DRR governance, transparency and accountability.

          #6 To contribute to the global deliberations on the post-2015 framework for DRR through the development of an ‘Asia Pacific regional HFA2 implementation plan’.

          #7 To build coherence between the post-2015 framework for DRR and current processes on the sustainable development goals and climate change arrangements.

 

2. Urban Resilience in Asia: special session during the 6th AMCDRR

Whether or not climate change impacts trigger migration is a different debate, however, it would be hard to cast doubt on the argument that phenomena like extreme rainfalls, typhoons or extensive droughts are often drivers of human displacement. As rural to urban migration rates become higher, almost 53% of the population in Asia is expected to live in cities by 2030, according to UN HABITAT. Environmental issues such as sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns and rising mean temperatures along with social problems like poverty, crime, or political turmoil, synthesize a mosaic of chronic stresses and severe shocks that cities have to deal with. Nevertheless, while catastrophe is not always preventable, the ensuing destruction and devastation can be reduced as was highlighted during the Urban Resilience Session.

Urban resilience session

Below there is a brief summary of what the major focal points of urban resilience should be during the post-2015 period, as were discussed by the panel:

  • Exploring an appropriate approach of urban resilience and risks

Urbanization is a multifaceted transformative process; hence urban resilience is about the need to comprehend the kind of transformations will take place in broader landscapes and regions. As Dr. Richard Friend put it, ‘multi-scale, multi-locational changes’ are to come as a consequence of urbanization. Urban areas include complicated interdependent systems, the failure of which could lead to cascading impacts affecting the availability of, or access to, clean water, electricity and communications. Furthermore, urban systems extend beyond the administrative borders of a city to the surrounding areas that also depend on those complex systems. Therefore, urban risks require a particular approach that ensures that possible failure of any single system will not provoke cascading collapse of broader systems. This could be achieved, for instance, by better governance or even improved land-use planning.

  • The importance of local governments and synergistic action

Local actions and initiatives are the most direct agents of building resilience to risks and stresses. It is therefore essential for local governance stakeholders to possess and use functional sets of capacities and tools to support appropriate planning. In addition, cities are entry points to think about resilience in terms of economic issues. Local governments should have direct access to financial resources so as to be able to respond timely to cities’ needs and take prompt decisions. Collaborations within the city level are of major significance as well. Climate change impacts have been scaling up the pressure on Asian cities’ systems and governance structures in a way that no policy-decision or policy-making body can deal with on its own. Governments along with private sector and civil society should work collectively to minimize risks and reduce vulnerability. So far in Asia there have been successful synergies, showing how such collaborations can be fruitful by bringing together different local departments and sectors (see for instance the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network – ACCCRN).

  • Resilience: to what, of what and for whom?

As the rate of urbanization remains high, only a few cities will be able to cope with the intensification of socioeconomic inequalities and urban poverty that the continuous massive influx of people generates in the long term. The urban future must adopt a wider context of inclusive development nurturing a sense of safety in local societies. Pressure on different systems is going to escalate; water, food, energy and waste management infrastructures in many cities/cases might require transformative renovation. At the same time, legal frameworks that promote transparency, accountability and the right to public participation should be developed, in order to establish open access to information about pollution levels, environmental degradation and land use. Thereby marginalized and poor populations in cities will be in the position to have access to basic infrastructure and services, land, political voice and legal recourse.

  • Implications of the dynamic state of urbanization

As aforementioned, urbanization is a continuous process which implies –inter alia– that cities are constantly changing, both in physical, social and political terms. This has several implications. The profile of risks in a city also changes and so does the state of power within a city when it comes to addressing resilience. In urbanized areas resilience-building is often an outcome of the amalgamation of political and governmental processes. At the same time, the recognition of the importance of cities and their role as economic hubs is increasing globally. According to Dr. Bharat Dahiya, urbanization is a tool to generate economic growth, so, while the concerns of shocks and stresses have traditionally been sited within the jurisdiction of municipal government officers, Ministries of Finance might also need to incorporate them in their sphere of interest and action.

 

3. My two cents about the urban resilience narrative in a nutshell

(1) Similar to concepts like vulnerability, adaptive capacity or transformability, urban resilience is amenable to diverse definitions. As it cuts across societal and environmental processes, the concept keeps providing food for thought and continuous debates to academics, while at the same time, governments design policies and develop programmes in order to guide and/or assist cities’ authorities and communities to achieve resilience. In any case, finding the ‘ideal definition’ should not be a principal priority for policy makers, regardless of how interesting this is at an academic level, although I personally feel that an ideal definition is indeed utopic. After all, there are so many different angles to examine urban resilience. UNISDR, UN Habitat, ICLEI or C40, academics, engineers -to mention but a few- all have a different approach but they all have the same target audience. This, I think, points out the necessity for: i) integration of various types of knowledge and experiences, and ii) dialogue across a range of public and private stakeholders, both within a convergence of bottom-up and top-down approach of governance. As Weichselgartner and Kelman (2014) argue in a recent paper, such integration could generate context-appropriate, socially robust and actionable knowledge. The need for actionable or ‘doable knowledge’ was also highlighted by Bernardia Irawati Tjandradewi, Secretary General, United Cities and Local Governments – Asia-Pacific, during the Urban Resilience Session. ‘Doable knowledge’ in conjunction with explicit working definitions and concrete baselines could deal with the complexity of resilience and embody practical experience.

(2) The issue of governance is vital in addressing resilience. Last year during the “Sustainable Cities: Foundations and our Urban Future” conference in Copenhagen, Jan Gehl talked about the necessity to make a decision about ‘the cities we -as civil society- wish for in the future’. In accordance with Jan Gehl, Richard Friend illustrated during the Session the need for an ‘urban vision’. As a matter of fact though, regardless of what vision for their future citizens possess, it is policy makers who are the major agents of governance. Therefore, mainstreaming urban climate resilience into current governance processes and practices is not adequate, unless, as Friend (2014) suggests, it comes with the creation of the conditions for urban governance that can take on board the principles of resilience. Urban resilience alone however is not a panacea for the provision of social justice and equity. The role of science is crucial as it has the potential to promote these values by increasing the equity of knowledge and resource allocation (Weichselgartner and Kelman, 2014).

(3) If you are interested in the issue of resilience, you can find thought-provoking presentations, session reports and videos from the opening and closing ceremonies of Resilience 2014 Conference that took place in Montpellier, France, from 4th to 8th of May 2014 here.

 

[1] Actually, there was an exemption in the row of the conferences with the 3rd Conference in Kuala Lumpur being held only one year after the second one in New Delhi (2007).

© Petros Theodorou

Suggested citing:

Theodorou, P., 2014. Urban Resilience and Disaster Risk Reduction on the Road to the second Hyogo Framework for Action: Insights from the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction [Online]. Available at: http://wp.me/p4iP0x-fb [accessed + date when the website was accessed].

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About Petros Theodorou

Petros holds an MSc in Climate Change and International Development from University of East Anglia (UK). He has studied Economics and has a Masters degree in International and European studies, focusing on Environmental Governance and Sustainable Development. The interplay between climate change adaptation and migration, along with urban resilience and climate change communication are among his major scientific interests. His working experience includes environmental NGOs, think tanks and non-profit associations in Belgium, Thailand and Greece.

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