Cities 'woefully unprepared' for rising disaster risk, World Bank says

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 says.
Pedestrians looks across the East River at the lower Manhattan skyline in New York in this June 2013 photo. Projections suggest that by the 2050s, 800,000 people could be living in a flood zone that would cover a quarter of the land. (Seth Wening/Associated Press)

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 

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.

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."