Vulnerable Cities – Waking Up to the Need for Urban Disaster Risk Management

(ADB and Citi)

02 May 2012 (2:00 pm-3:30 pm, SM Hall)


This seminar will present speakers from developing countries in Asia and the Pacific and counterparts from developed countries to draw out the fundamental elements of urban risk reduction that member country governments, at national and local levels, can incorporate into their development strategies.

Discussions will revolve around three inter-related tracks that underpin the economic foundation for disaster risk reduction:

  • Reducing ‘value at risk’ by enhancing resilience- recognizing that governments are not fully accounting for the disaster risk that they face and not managing the attendant liabilities.
  • Accelerating investment in DRM to advance the stream of benefits- recognizing that increasing protection now and reducing loss in the future saves the loss of development gains and redirecting development budgets to reconstruction rather than new development achievements.
  • Capturing the stream of benefits from DRM to underwrite the costs of investment - recognizing that currently, incentive systems are not aligned properly to truly encourage investment in DRM by the necessary stakeholders.

The key issue is how can city administrations overcome the obstacles and roadblocks that most commonly obstruct progress on DRM and how can incentives and market mechanisms be structured to align investment in DRM by various stakeholders?

Building blocks to align with financing and economic development include:

  • maximizing the value of public investments in infrastructure as the core foundation for resilient development;
  • establishing local (and national) facilities for disaster risk financing to anticipate, plan for, reduce, and transfer natural catastrophe risks before they occur.
  • creating and rolling out mechanisms for capturing the benefit streams of DRM investments to drive ongoing cycles of DRM investment.

The seminar will provide a platform to discuss a systemic approach to urban disaster risk management, addressing these issues.


Global dynamics such as urbanization, climate change, and environmental degradation are increasing society’s disaster risks, and in some locations disasters are eliminating wealth faster than it is produced. Urban risk, in particular, has become an increasingly important development issue. With weak regulatory and planning regimes, large numbers of informal settlers and the poor, cities are becoming a major nexus of disaster risk. In the Asia-Pacific urban context, specific factors that influence urban risk, such as planning and control of urban development and land use patterns; the adoption, revision and implementation of development (and building) codes; their effectiveness in reducing damage; quality of construction and design practices; and risk reduction efforts such as retrofitting initiatives, are typically not well established. Ideally, city governments would first prevent as much risk as is cost efficient, reduce or transfer what they can of the remaining risk and then, recognizing that there will always be residual risk, prepare for it. Why is this not the standard approach?

Ultimately the challenge to address urban risk in Asia and the Pacific comes down to economic fundamentals – to deciding how much risk we can afford to accept. Effective risk management is often seen as a cost rather than an investment, and is inappropriately perceived as a trade-off against economic growth. But the costs of ignoring disaster risks on long-term growth and development are substantial. The default position for not making decisions on reducing urban disaster risk to is to accept high numbers of deaths and livelihood deprivation, prolonged economic decline and physical blight, and lost opportunities.

A paradigm shift is needed from post-disaster compensation for reconstruction and recovery to pre-disaster investment in risk reduction and adaptation. While this shift requires political and technical innovation, it is the economic dimension that will ultimately be the foundation for change, by developing incentives and market mechanisms to align actions among national and local governments, the private sector, and civil society toward greater resilience. This seminar will provide a platform for discussion of a systemic approach to urban disaster risk management, which will address these issues.


Jay Collins
Managing Director, and Vice-Chairman of Global Banking, Managing Director – Public Sector Group, Citi

Kiyoshi Kodera
Vice President, Japan International Cooperation Agency

Iokibe Makoto
Council Chair, Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, Cabinet Secretariat
Chancellor, National Defense Academy

Vinod Thomas
Director General, Independent Evaluation Department, ADB

Moderator: Margareta Wahlstrom
UN Special Representative to the Secretary General and  Assistant Secretary General for Disaster Reduction