Are We Resilient Yet?
UCCR Investments Paying Off
The Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) initiative over the past eight years has worked to strengthen urban climate change resilience through testing new approaches, building capacity and engaging with an initial core group of ten cities in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam to implement resilience building interventions. The initiative has shown that investments in resilience-building processes and actions can have a clear payoff across a host of dimensions. However the question remains, how much has resilience been improved? Is it enough? Was it worth the investment?
Capturing the Multi-faceted Benefits of Resilience
From the ACCCRN experience, we learned that resilience benefits extend well beyond increasing the ability of households to prepare for and bounce back from shocks and stresses. That is, building resilience does more than reduce vulnerabilities to particular shocks and stresses. There are also included co-benefits to investing in resilience, ranging from strengthened coordination mechanisms across silos and between important stakeholders, to being able to react more flexibly to a range of unpredictable future threats. For instance:
- In Indore, India, two urban lakes in the city have been restored to provide redundancy in the water supply during drought periods. These lakes are located near social housing, and have been specifically selected so that they benefit poor communities. In addition to trash removal and cleaning up of the lakes, decentralized water treatment systems were also installed to provide clean drinking water, as well as aeration systems to keep the water quality in the lakes high. As a result, the community gained access to clean water and also benefitted from not having to be dependent water tankers, which provide water at a higher cost and is susceptible to unpredictable disruption. The lake was also stocked with fish, and soon fishermen were fishing in the lake and eating or selling their catch. It also became a pleasant place for recreation and gathering of citizens. The project also fostered new collaborations between various city departments and a more inclusive decision-making process. The benefits have clearly been multifold, however, it has been difficult to fully capture, let alone quantify these and benefits and so the resilience impact remains anecdotal.
- In Da Nang, Vietnam, the ACCCRN initiative supported a scheme to provide 244 households with loans to upgrade homes to be flood and storm-resistant. When Typhoon Nari struck shortly after the homes were upgraded in late 2013, 230 houses remained intact. Averting these losses meant that households did not fall into a property trap in the aftermath. In addition, the program, run by the local women’s union, increased social cohesion and became a forum for sharing information and distributing further advice on livelihood improvement opportunities. The resulting benefits from a modest resilience investment went beyond the protection of homes alone.
In both these cases although the co-benefits of resilience investments were clearly observable, they remain hard to capture and quantify in ways that can inform decision making. Developing a robust mechanism to measure urban climate change resilience (UCCR) impacts would give decision makers and practitioners the evidence to decide what policies and programs have been most effective, which ones are highest value for money, and which will hold the most promise as future investments. This would also give cities and stakeholders a way to assess whether their actions are leading to greater resilience.
The Measurement Gap
In 2008, when the ACCCRN initiative was launched, UCCR was an entirely new field and stakeholders were still struggling to define the concept. Several challenges existed, which made it difficult to develop measurement frameworks and methodologies.
It was and remains difficult to establish a framework and to agree on indicators that would adequately represent resilience of individuals and systems. Often these frameworks lack the necessary context (causing solutions to be overly generalized) or struggle with the many systems and scales that intertwine to support urban resilience.
For instance, to assess resilience to flooding hazards in a given city it may be necessary to measure disparate elements such as the effectiveness of solid waste removal, watershed hydrology, and household flood preparedness. Developing an assessment framework that is comprehensive, generally applicable, and still simple to apply has been elusive. Only recently has progress been made, thanks in part to more empirical understanding of urban climate change resilience.
Collecting baseline data to measure UCCR was similarly a challenge at the start of ACCCRN. Oftentimes, the data did not exist, especially at a local level, or if it did exist it was difficult to integrate and standardize. In most cases no one unit or authority had the mandate or incentive to collect and analyze cross sectoral data related to resilience. This has started to change recently, as cities have created climate change coordination offices or units, or designated chief resilience officers who have the responsibility to collect and integrate resilience data.
Going beyond assessing resilience relative to an ideal state, towards actually measuring and quantifying changes in resilience is even more practically and conceptually challenging. A measurement approach would need to account for different time horizons, changing baseline conditions over time, and would need to integrate measurement methodologies from a variety of different disciplines. For example, to adequately measure changes in resilience, one might have to measure losses averted at household and city scales, changes in ecosystem services, changes in disability-adjusted life years just to quantify improvements in economic systems, ecosystems, and public health, let alone social systems! This quickly becomes a daunting task, but one that has seen a great deal of interest in recently, especially as questions of return on investment and value for money of resilience investments have been raised.
Measurement as an Opportunity
After the successful piloting in the ten core cities and scaling of the UCCR interventions to over 40 cities in six countries, we now we have a much better understanding of the dimensions of resilience and a base of knowledge around how to assess resilience. There is now a far larger empirical base to draw from, giving us an opportunity to refine a assessment frameworks and delve into measurement approaches.
As a first step, ISET has developed an initial urban climate change resilience framework that has been tested in eight cities. In a more recent piece of work, through support from The Rockefeller Foundation, Arup International Development has developed a City Resilience Framework (CRF), a tool to understand city resilience that was informed by the ACCCRN experience but covers shocks and stresses beyond climate. From the City Resilience Framework, a set of indicators as part of the City Resilience Index have been developed and will be piloted in cities in 2015.
In addition, resilience reviews are planned in the four core ACCCRN countries that will provide an opportunity to pilot the use of these and other approaches as a means of assessing cities’ levels of resilience, enable some comparative analysis for learning purposes, and to establish a baseline for the future. The review will also be an opportunity to gain feedback from city stakeholders about what is most important to them to understand and track.
The Agenda Ahead
We need to continue refining the definition of UCCR, which will in turn further hone the analytical framework for assessing resilience of cities, and eventually inform the development of measurement systems for resilience. Otherwise, the risk is that in our enthusiasm to advance stronger metrics, we will start to drive how we define UCCR by the data and indicators that are available rather than what is needed for resilience.
It will be imperative to find some consensus around the analytical approach and tools, to continue refining indicators, to encourage the collection of data and to provide guidelines to inform the use of the approaches developed. To carry forward a robust system of measurement, many actors will need to work together and it is essential to involve local stakeholders in the process. We look forward to this next phase in the evolution of work to support greater urban resilience globally.