UNDP’s disaster and climate risk management approach

In today’s world, many fastest growing cities are highly exposed to disaster and climate-related risks. These trends, in addition to rising exposure and multi-dimensional vulnerabilities, cast increasing frequency and magnitude of urban-centric disasters as seen from the past decade. It is therefore critical to employ more risk-informed and resilience-building development approach at urban and local levels. Many cities around the world have proven that investing in reducing disaster and climatic risks helps promote sustainable and resilient socio-economic development.

The frequency and magnitude of urban disaster and climatic events are increasing with an exponential spike in economic losses from disasters in urban centers (UNISDR 2013 and 2011, and IFRC 2010). Thailand floods (loss of US$45.7bn, [GAR 2013]), Hurricane Sandy in New York (US$65bn), and disasters like the earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused heavy economic losses, disrupted national and global business processes, and undermined national and societal development. The number of people exposed to cyclone and earthquake risks in cities in developing countries will likely double between the years 2000 and 2050 (World Bank 2013).

Urban centers are not mere contributors to climate change with their high carbon emissions but are also affected by its adverse impacts. Cities account for nearly 80% of economic output, 70% of energy use, and up to 49% of the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally [IPCC 2014]. Urban energy related GHG emissions would rise from around 67% today to 74% by 2030 (International Energy Agency 2008). Sustainable energy use will be crucial for sustainable, resilient, and inclusive urban development.

Fast-growing migration to urban areas due to factors such as increasing rural distress, conflicts, disasters and other socio-economic factors further intensifies urban challenges. This leads to expansion of hazard-prone informal settlements and slums in cities with 1 in 7 people in the world living in deteriorated and overcrowded spaces in urban areas (Mitlin, D. and D. Satterthwaite 2013). The expansion and in-situ mushrooming of unplanned city sprawls further heightens the urban risk.

However, vulnerability to disaster and climate risks goes beyond mere exposure to extreme weather events, as many cities in developing countries “are caught in a `perfect storm’ of population growth, escalating adaptation needs and substantial development deficits created by a shortage of human and financial resources, increasing levels of informality, poor governance, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, poverty and growing inequality (IPCC 2014).” There is a critical interdependence between vulnerability to hazards and socio-economic factors (e.g., security of tenure, access to social safety nets, poverty, access to livelihoods, eco-system services and other inequities) in cities.

Urban areas also provide unique opportunities for reducing risks. Nearly two-thirds of the urban infrastructure expected to be completed between now and 2030 is yet to be built. This offers a tremendous opportunity to ensure a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive built environment in urban areas. As centers for intellectual, political, business and financial activities, cities are in an advantageous position to make this happen with higher levels of educated population, better access to resources and technologies, and home to key economic, financial, and political institutions and groups. Cities have all it takes to ensure a disaster and climate resilient development. Therefore, ensuring risk-informed urban development is key to global transition to resilient and sustainable development.

Ensuring a resilient, sustainable, and inclusive urban development will necessitate a range of actions involving incremental steps (improving efficiency within existing technological, governance, and value systems) to transformational changes (involving efforts to re-orient/alter the fundamental attributes by adopting a whole of system approach). These could include effecting a cultural shift in governance contexts, facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships, creating champions, and strengthening leadership.

​UNDP’s disaster and climate risk management approach

The UNDP Strategic Plan (2018 - 2021) identifies urbanization and community resilience building as one of the priority areas of work. It recognizes the existing and emerging reality to ensure risk-averse and sustainable urban development paradigm, securing lives and livelihoods at local and community levels. It centers on a holistic approach of integrating risk management (disaster risk reduction, climate adaptation), climate mitigation, energy sustainability, poverty eradication, improved governance, multi-stakeholder engagement, and community participation for achieving resilient urban development.

UNDP has implemented regional, multi-country, and national programs on urban risk management over the past decade with focused interventions in 75 countries. A review of UNDP’s disaster risk governance portfolio has shown that nearly 37% of projects tackled local and urban disaster risk reduction (DRR). Majority of these interventions have strong focus on risk governance, capacity development, and knowledge management. These include mainstreaming disaster and climate risks into the urban regulatory and institutional policy and capacity building, provision of trainings to targeted government officials and relevant stakeholders, documentation of good practices and lessons, and development of training manuals, toolkits and guidelines. 

UNDP employs a multi-hazard approach to urban risk management. A number of on-going initiatives have been designed with an integrated DRR and climate adaptation approach to urban risk management (e.g. the Philippines, Indonesia), and apply innovative solutions such as through the use of information and communications technology (ICT) solutions for DRR in cities (i.e. Europe and CIS region).

UNDP Arab Cities Resilience Project is developing resilience indicators to measure progress of urban resilience building interventions. Similarly, UNDP’s urban risk management project in Aqaba (Jordan) demonstrated that setting-up local units for DRR, conducting risk assessments, training volunteers, and establishing early warning systems help promote resilience of urban development assets and infrastructure. As a result, Aqaba was recognized as a model city by UNISDR under the “Making Cities Resilient” campaign. The lessons learnt are being replicated in other cities in the Arab Region, as agreed by countries and cities under the Aqaba Declaration.

To integrate risk-informed approaches into urban development, governance and planning processes, some of the key areas of contribution from a climate change and DRR perspectives to consider are:

  1. Developing an evidence base for risk-informed urban development

  • Support access to/development of and application of quality data, risk information and risk assessments in urban policy and development planning;
  • Support cities define and communicate their risks to enable better management of disaster risks/impacts;
  • Analyze/assess urban risk management context to identify disaster and climate risk management and climate adaptation related needs and priorities;
  • Conduct comprehensive risk and vulnerability assessments from DRR and climate adaptation perspectives to develop risk scenarios for short, medium and long-term time horizons;
  • And support formulation of city DRR plans and resilience strategy(ies).

  1. Strengthening urban and local level governance for integrating risk management concerns to ensure resilient and sustainable urban and local development
  • Foster adoption of a systems’ approach to urban development and risk management issues and facilitate inclusive, participatory and accountable governance mechanisms;
  • Analyze urban and local risk governance mechanisms (institutions, laws, policies and frameworks, land-use planning, and bye-laws etc.,);
  • Develop tools/methodologies and build capacities to mainstream risks into urban governance and planning processes, and promote risk-informed urban development decision-making focusing on urban systems, services, sectors, planning, resources and capacities;
  • Strengthen urban governance through capacity development and knowledge management interventions.

  1. Promoting and implementing integrated risk management and livelihood resilience solutions (DRR, climate adaptation) at urban, municipal and community levels
  • Assess socio-economic and environmental risks of vulnerable and marginalized groups and promote access to social safety nets and other social protection measures;
  • Provide comprehensive development and risk management solutions by harnessing intra-UNDP expertise across poverty eradication, environment management, governance, climate adaptation, energy and other thematic areas;
  • And support formulation and implementation of social safety and social protection schemes including micro financing and insurance to strengthen disaster risk financing instruments.

  1. Policy and programmatic interventions
  • Support capacity of city and national governments to access key global funding mechanisms for climate adaptation, mitigation and risk management;
  • Support coordination mechanisms to facilitate a multi-stakeholder approach through participation of private sector, civil society, technical institutions and other stakeholders;
  • And promote collaboration with global and regional urban risk management and resilient development initiatives including south-south collaboration.