MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Asia and the Pacific could see a seven-fold return on their investment in urban disaster risk management, if they devote resources into protecting cities across the region that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of natural calamities, delegates heard today at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
With two-thirds of the region's population projected to live in cities by 2050, and with more than 70% of the region's GDP deriving from cities, protecting urban assets from disasters is a priority, especially since many of Asia's major cities are situated in locations prone to flooding, tropical storms, and earthquakes, among other hazards.
"Disaster risk management is often seen as a cost rather than an investment," Vinod Thomas, Director General of Independent Evaluation at ADB, said at the seminar, Vulnerable Cities - Waking Up to the Need for Urban Disaster Risk Management. "Instead, we must see it as a necessary investment to save people's lives and livelihoods, climate proof critical infrastructure, and promote sustainable development."
Investing in disaster risk reduction is prudent: for every $1 spent, it has been estimated that the economic impact of disaster will be reduced by $7. With the annual economic cost of disasters averaging $53.8 billion in Asia and the Pacific, the focus must shift from post-disaster reconstruction and recovery to pre-disaster investment in risk reduction, adaptation and innovative disaster financing, the audience heard. Lessons from recent disasters, including the 2011 Japan earthquake, were also discussed.
Building resilience has emerged as a key global strategy to help reduce the impacts of natural hazards that threaten cities. The seminar examined ways in which Asian governments can incorporate urban risk reduction into their national and local development strategies, by developing incentives, for example, and by using market mechanisms to better align risk reduction actions.
Private investment in disaster risk reduction can be promoted through tax credits, for example, or by providing greater access to financing with innovative pay-back options. Panelists agreed that investment planning for disaster reduction has to be complementary to the more traditional policy planning approach.
"The private sector shares this growing concern about the impact of disasters on cities in Asia and around the world, and we are pursuing partnerships with the public sector to address a wide range of issues to assist not only in rebuilding efforts but also in prevention," said Jay Collins, Managing Director and Vice-Chairman of Citi's Global Banking, which co-sponsored the seminar.
Participants in the seminar included Thomas; Collins; Margarita Wahlstrom, UN Special Representative of the Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General for Disaster Reduction; Kiyoshi Kodera, Vice President, Japan International Cooperation Agency; and Makoto Iokibe, Chair of the Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake.