Making Cities Resilient: Learning from the Cities’ Experience

We are in an era where daily lives are regularly disrupted by extreme weather events that continue to increase in intensity and frequency, breaking previous records. In the past six months alone, many parts of the world were impacted by a series of super strong storms including Cyclone Idai in Southeastern Africa, Hurricane Dorian in the Caribbean and the East Coast of Northern American hemisphere, and Typhoon Ling Ling in the North East Asian region; leaving many cities devastated.

Protecting the lives and well-being of people from such impacts is not only a matter of how fast we can respond and rescue them through emergency services. It is time to appraise critically how we can build the cities to withstand such disruption and to recover expeditiously from ever increasing challenges. Resilience and recovery must cover all sectors, including the physical infrastructure, the governance systems, the multi-sectoral collaboration, and the engagement of citizens, to name a few.

“It is time to appraise critically how we can build the cities to withstand such disruption and to recover expeditiously from ever increasing challenges.”

Over the past decade that the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) has been involved in advocating and raising awareness on resilience building at the local level, we see many cities that progress well on the roadmap to disaster resilience. In order to understand what elements contribute to sustaining the efforts of resilience-building in these cities, UNDRR commissioned an independent study in early 2019 to learn from the experience of Greater Manchester (UK), Amadora (Portugal), Potenza (Italy), Makati (Philippines), and Cairns (Australia), all of which were recognized as the role model cities in the Making Cities Resilient Campaign. The results revealed the following eleven key issues as success factors:Integrated approach: broad-based, multi-disciplinary

1. Integrated approach: broad-based, multi-disciplinary
2. Partnership and co-ordination
3. Long-term perspective (and adaptive management)
4. Leadership
5. Public engagement
6. Enabling environment: national legal and policy frameworks
7. Inclusion
8. Engagement in the Making Cities Resilient and other campaigns
9. Review, analysis, evidence, learning
10. Economics, finance, and funding
11. Risk data and assessment

The study further emphasized that the above success factors were built upon the knowledge the cities gain from understanding and implementing the Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient, a framework provided by the Making Cities Resilient Campaign that helps unpack the concepts of disaster resilience into tangible critical and independent steps that need to be taken to build and maintain disaster resilience.


The Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient

Enabling Essentials

Essential 1: Organise for disaster resilience
Essential 2: Identify, understand and use current and future risk scenarios
Essential 3: Strengthen financial capacity for resilience

Operational Essentials

Essential 4: Pursue resilient urban development and design
Essential 5: Safeguard natural buffers to enhance the protective functions offered by natural ecosystems
Essential 6: Strengthen institutional capacity for resilience
Essential 7: Understand and strengthen societal capacity for resilience
Essential 8: Increase infrastructure resilience

Build Back Better Essentials

Essential 9: Ensure effective preparedness and disaster response
Essential 10: Expedite recovery and build back better

By conducting a self-assessment exercise to understand their progress along these Ten Essentials, the cities were in a position to assess their areas of strength and, at the same time, the areas before further improvement. These areas for further improvement helped the cities identify actions which are critical for implementation and that should be included in the city disaster risk reduction and urban development planning process.

In recent years, over 200 cities around the globe have used the Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities to self-assess their resilience building progress against these Ten Essentials[1]. The global snapshot of the local government progress based on the results of the 214 local governments’ self-assessment reveals that out of the maximum score of 3, the area that local government currently progress the best is on urban development and design with an average score of 1.55. The weakest area is on capacity to finance for resilience, with an average score of 1.01.

What do we learn from these scores? The usefulness is not to have high scores, but instead to score as realistically as possible, so to reflect the actual status of a place. If we do not recognize the problems, how can we find solutions? In case the scores are actually high in certain areas, then we must document the good practices, so other cities can learn from this experience. If the score is low, what then should be done to make improvements?

Among the cities conducting the Scorecard assessment, 20 cities utilized the results to inform disaster risk reduction and resilience planning, as a pilot. Cities found that by reflecting on their scores, they were able to identify clearly what their priorities should be and what they need to do to further strengthen disaster resilience. These cities are among those pioneers achieving the Target of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction as they have now put a local disaster risk reduction strategy in place[2]. More importantly, they are now moving along the disaster resilience pathway and in a position to share their experiences with other cities and local governments. Resilience building is a process and therefore the actions must continue. Visit Tales of resilient cities to understand more on what they did and learn from their experiences.

1. Supported by the European Commission under the “MAKING CITIES SUSTAINABLE AND RESILIENT: Implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 at the Local Level” initiative.

2. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 is a global framework adopted by the UN member states in 2015 as an instrument to guide global disaster risk reduction efforts. The ultimate goal is to substantially reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries by 2030. The Sendai Framework has Seven Global Targets aiming to be achieved by 2030 except for Target e which calls for substantially increase the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020. Having the DRR strategies in place by 2020 will give the national and local governments strategic direction to reduce disaster risks and achieve the remaining targets by 2030.

Sanjaya Bhatia & Mutarika Pruksapong, UNDRR

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Sanjaya Bhatia

Head, UNDRR Office for Northeast Asia and Global Education and Training Institute (GETI)
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United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s (UNDRR) mandate is to serve as the focal point in the United Nations system for the coordination of disaster risk reduction and to ensure synergies among disaster risk reduction activities. Sanjaya Bhatia is the Head of the Office of UNDRR Office for Northeast Asia (ONEA) and Global Education and Training Institute (GETI) for Disaster Risk Reduction in Incheon, Republic of Korea, where over the past two years he has guided the training of over 3000 government officials.

Before taking this position Sanjaya Bhatia worked as a head of the International Recovery Platform (IRP) - Secretariat at Kobe, Japan where he led the development of the Guidance Notes on Recovery and supervised a capacity building program for national and local governments, along with other knowledge management functions. He trained over 850 government officials in that period.

Earlier as the Focal Point Disaster Resilient Schools and Hospitals with the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) of the World Bank he was instrumental in development of the “Guidance Notes on Safer School Construction” and the “Guidance Notes on Integrating DRR in Health Sector Projects” and financing of projects on safe schools and hospitals.

He has worked with the Government of India, the World Bank, and the United Nations in the field of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation for over 26 years.

He has managed projects for mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction and CCA and ex-post recovery in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Haiti, Iran, Turkey, Lao PDR, Cambodia, China, Serbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Honduras, Panama, El Salvador, Belarus, Ukraine, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Georgia, Armenia, Mongolia and the Philippines. He was instrumental in the construction of 6,500 seismically safe primary school buildings.

He holds a degree in law and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from New York University. He has authored a number of publications.

He is a certified trainer for the Incident Command System (Emergency Management) and functioned as a trainer and resource person for the Government of India and the United Nations.

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Mutarika (Mai) Pruksapong

Programme Officer, UNDRR
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Mutarika, often known as Mai, joined UNDRR in September 2017 as a Programme Officer of the Global Education and Training Institute (GETI) based in Incheon, Republic of Korea. She is responsible for capacity building programmes in the areas of risk reduction and resilience building and the use of tools to enhance planning capacity for disaster risk reduction (DRR), particularly at the local level. She also serves as a global coordinator of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign, managing and monitoring pilot projects, and collaborating with various partners on resilient cities.

Previously, she worked for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Thailand focusing on capacity building of national and sub-national governments in mainstreaming DRR in sustainable development and was a key player in strengthening multi-stakeholder partnership in DRR. She is an author and editor of various publications on DRR with vast experience in training facilitation and curriculum development, serving clients in more than 25 countries globally.

Mutarika obtained her first degree in Economics from Thammasat University, Thailand, and completed her Masters and Ph.D. in Organizational Development from Kyoto University, Japan.