By 2050, 75 percent of the global population are expected to live in cities. Because of the collision of globalization, urbanization, and climate change, not a week goes by that there’s not a disruption to a city somewhere in the world: a cyber attack, a natural disaster, or economic or social upheaval. Meanwhile, cities face acute stresses, such as poverty, endemic crime and violence, or failing infrastructure, that weaken a city over time.
A third of the natural disasters that have occurred around the world in the last three decades have been in Asia. Asia’s cities—among the areas in the world most vulnerable to climate change events—are growing rapidly: By 2025, 30 of the world’s megacities, or urban areas with populations exceeding 10 million, will be in Asia. Yet by mid-century, the region could face annual disaster losses exceeding $19 billion.
Africa’s economies are growing at an unprecedented pace—and so is its youth population. Job creation is not keeping up with the youth bulge: By 2050, 400 million people under the age of 25 will be in need of sustainable employment if the continent can expect to continue along its growth trajectory. The rise of the information communications technology (ICT) sector in Africa —as well as the adoption of business outsourcing practices that intentionally hire underemployed demographics.
Over the last two decades, the global health and economic impacts of SARS, H5N1, H1N1, and Ebola have raised global awareness of pandemic threats. In many cases, the most at-risk regions lacked the capacity to effectively monitor and report the first signs of outbreaks within their nations—let alone coordinate such communications with neighboring countries.
Fresh water is both an elemental human need and a central resource for economic and social development, serving everything from household demands to agriculture, industry, and energy production. One third of the world’s rivers and aquifers—supporting 1.6 billion people—are severely water stressed, meaning that more than 75 percent of their available water is being used.
Communities and entire nations around the globe are faced with recurring shocks and stresses that are only increasing in frequency and magnitude—from coastal storms to pandemics to civil conflict. While there are many actors helping to respond to immediate crises, these interventions have traditionally focused on relief and rebuilding, or on longer-term development, without planning for unforeseen shocks and stresses. As a result, $1 of every $3 spent in development assistance is wasted.
Between 2011 and 2013, the federal government spent $136 billion on disaster relief in the United States—an average of nearly $400 per household per year. During that time, President Obama declared major disasters in 67 communities in the United States across 48 states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. With extreme weather showing no signs of slowing, and rising waters increasing flooding risks around the country, it’s time to change the paradigm of disaster response and recovery.
Unparalleled public health, agricultural, industrial, and technical advancements of the 20th century created the conditions for better health for billions of people. Yet this tremendous socio-economic progress is taking a heavy toll on the Earth’s natural systems. Between unsustainable resource consumption and population growth, there is growing evidence that the planet’s capacity to sustain the growing human population is declining.
While health spending has increased dramatically around the world, access to affordable, quality services—without the risk of financial hardship—has lagged. At the same time, though health systems increasingly serve as buffers between vulnerable communities and crises, inadequate and ill-resourced national health systems lack the capacity to meet daily health needs, let alone anticipate, prepare for, and recover from health shocks down the line.