Cities around the world are failing to plan for fast-increasing risks from
extreme weather and other hazards, particularly as population
growth and surging migration put more people in the path of
those threats, the World Bank said on Monday.
By 2050, 1.3 billion people and $158 trillion in assets will
be menaced by worsening river and coastal floods alone, warned a
new report from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and
Recovery (GFDRR), managed by the World Bank.
"Cities and coastal areas are woefully unprepared for the
kind of climate and disaster risk now facing our world," said
John Roome, the World Bank Group's senior director for climate
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But as cities expand and revamp, they have the opportunity
to lower that risk by putting in place more resilient
infrastructure and preventive policies, he said.
Those could include everything from restrictions on using
too much groundwater - one of the reasons cities from Tokyo to
Jakarta are sinking - to planning for more green space, and new
schools and apartments set above flood-prone zones.
The problem is that many city officials have no clear idea
of the range of disaster risks they face and how serious they
could be. Argentina, for instance, has no volcanoes but is
affected at times by ash from eruptions in Chile.
And when Malawi was hit by an earthquake in 2009, it came as
a surprise. "Not many people think about the African continent
and its potential for earthquakes," said Alanna Simpson, a risk
management specialist with the GFDRR.
No PhD? Help at hand
A new open-source disaster risk management tool, called
ThinkHazard!, aims to make planning for such threats easier by
pulling together information on all potential disaster risks in
a country or region, and how they compare.
It looks at hazards including floods, cyclones, droughts,
heat waves, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and
The tool, aimed at national and city planners, project
developers and others, also offers advice on what might work to
reduce the risks.
While information on disaster risks already exists, it tends
to be in scattered locations and jargon-heavy language, Simpson
For an average planner, "you need a PhD to understand if a
country has risk and how it might affect your project", she told
the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
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The new tool, developed by the GFDRR, brings the information
together and simplifies it, so that the developer of a road or
school in Kenya, for instance, can get a sense of the level of
risks their project faces - including threats they may not know
Those can be substantial, the disaster experts noted. In
Indonesia, the risk of flooding from overflowing rivers is
expected to grow 166 percent over the next 30 years, while
coastal flooding risk could rise 445 percent, the report said.
Nepal's capital Kathmandu is expected to see a 50 percent
rise in earthquake risk by 2045 as more slums and informal
buildings go up.
A combination of sea-level rise and sinking of coastal
cities - including from excessive extraction of the groundwater
beneath them - could drive disaster losses in 136 coastal cities
from $6 billion a year in 2010 to $1 trillion a year by 2070,
the report said.
But planning now for more big typhoons in Manila, for
example, by ensuring new homes are not built on flood plains and
keeping drainage canals clear, will pay off, the experts said.
"The decisions we make today are defining the disasters of
tomorrow," said Francis Ghesquiere, head of the GFDRR
"We have a huge challenge - but also a huge opportunity - to
try to make sure the trillions of dollars that will go into new
housing, new infrastructure, the extension of cities... do not
increase risk exposure but rather reduce it."