This post originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal Asia.
This year’s cyclone and typhoon season in Asia saw some of the most powerful storms in the region’s history, resulting in lost lives, destroyed homes, mass evacuations, and billions of dollars in damages. While too often the response to tragic weather events focuses solely on rebuilding and strengthening failed infrastructure, we can draw important lessons from communities and cities where better advanced planning mitigated the effects of these events, and demonstrated that investing in building resilience truly pays off. But many cities lack access to the capacity and financing necessary to make these vital investments.
In Da Nang, Vietnam, Typhoon Nari left many without power or in some cases shelter, and caused $41 million (U.S.) in damages, including $4.6 million in damages to homes. However, all of the equally poor households that participated in the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) in partnership with the Vietnam Women’s Union were left unscathed. These families had access to an innovative credit facility which provided them with both resources and local design and technical know — how to make structural improvements that protected their homes from severe weather. That they emerged intact is testament to the innovative partnerships needed to build resilience in rapidly growing cities, and to help protect vulnerable families from spiraling into economic hardship and further poverty in the wake of a disaster.
Early evacuations in some parts of the Philippines ahead of Typhoon Haiyan helped reduce the loss of life, but the storm was relentless, and the death toll has reached into the thousands, with 4.4 million people displaced. The storm’s record-breaking severity also resulted in massive damage to affected provinces which will require significant aid, planning, and investment in order to recover. Achieving a recovery process that also enables long-term resilience building will take new approaches and considerable capital.
Indeed, while many cities recognize that approaching urban planning and development with long term resilience in mind makes sense, funding remains a challenge. This is especially the case in medium-sized cities in Asia, which are facing unprecedented rates of growth in terms of population, geographic expansion and economic development. Grappling with this challenge in the context of climate change requires a fundamental shift in approach.
This is at the heart of a new $145 million trust fund at the Asian Development Bank established by the UK Department for International Development and The Rockefeller Foundation. The U.S. Agency for International Development has also expressed an interest in supporting the fund. As part of ADB’s broad investment portfolio, new grant funds from this Urban Climate Change Resilience Partnership (UCCRP) will be available to at least 25 cities in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam. This assistance will in turn help them to leverage a further US$1 billion in public and private investment for building resilient infrastructure. The UCCRP funds will be used to develop resilience plans, identify and prepare priority projects, and share knowledge on urban climate change resilience more broadly. And ultimately it will aim to improve the lives of millions of urban poor facing a context of increased vulnerability and uncertainty.
The Partnership will enable cities to access hard-to-secure loans for building resilience through investing in areas such as storm resistant housing, and more resilient transit and water systems. It will also finance drainage and flood control measures that can build resilience to the multiple threats that cities face. Just as effective coordination and communication systems enabled early responses to Cyclone Phailin when it struck India in October, anticipatory and adaptive measures can help ensure long-term safety and build resilience for everyone, especially the poor.
This model is based on the foundation laid by similar resilience initiatives (including ACCCRN), where participating cities demonstrated the benefits of a new approach to planning and funding.
We’ve seen this work in Surat, India, where floods previously have brought the city to a standstill and caused billions of dollars in damage. Through a novel partnership between the public and private sector, an end-to-end early warning system now provides much improved weather information, coupled with a new mechanism for upstream reservoir management in order to minimize the risk of catastrophic events and increase the notice of flooding events, allowing households enough time to respond and evacuate if necessary. By improving information flows, Surat is protecting people by ensuring safer evacuations and limiting the risks of livelihood and business disruption in at-risk communities.
But these efforts need to be scaled up. This can only be achieved through developing comprehensive national policies, targeted investment plans, and sharing best practices. Through initiatives like the UCCRP partnership and the additional resources it will enable cities to access, a window of opportunity is opening to integrate resilience planning and practice at the scale needed to prevent the kind of disruption and devastation we’ve seen over the past two months. It is our collective aim to see cities remain hubs of opportunity and growth by providing the necessary capital to build the resilience that will sustain them through the 21st century.