This week’s horrifying news of the flooding that has inundated the Quezon City area of Manila brings to the fore the increasingly relevant discussion of how best to prepare urban areas for changing climates. By the year 2050, 70% of the Earth’s inhabitants will live in cities, up from 50% today. Much of this growth will occur in Asian cities that already struggle with overpopulation, poor sanitation and access to clean water. If the unique hazards of climate change are to be successfully mitigated, a frank conversation is needed about how to make urban areas adaptable and resilient.
A constellation of studies has shown that urban centers in low and middle income nations are particularly vulnerable to the sort of periodic, high-intensity disasters commonly associated with climate change. The effects of flooding, sea level rise, cyclonic storms, landslide and heat waves are concentrated: “a large and growing proportion of these deaths are in these nations’ urban areas,” a UN Secretariat report notes. Indeed, a 2009 primer from the World Bank’s Climate Resilient Cities program highlighted the specific danger of “widespread flooding” to Makati City, another low-lying area of Manila.
That climate change will potentiate the growing health, economic and social crises of urbanization is well established. Less so is how to tackle the problem of resilience; as the UN report notes, local governments are often ill-equipped to prepare for events such as cataclysmic flooding. One promising approach, introduced by The Rockefeller Foundation’s Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, involves a multi-phased approach. Utilizing partner groups at the city, regional and national level, ACCCRN calls first for city selection based on risk and capacity, followed by urban-level vulnerability assessments and a resilience action plan. The final step – implementation – is monitored and adapted on an ongoing basis and successes tagged for replication.
Building on the knowledge that each city faces unique challenges and has unique capabilities, the goal, in the World Bank’s words, of building, “compact, efficient, and walkable cities” that minimize risk must be a top priority for climate change policymakers and planners alike.