Building to Withstand the Next Haiyan

Some of the most powerful storms in the region's history hit Asia this year, resulting in lost lives, destroyed homes, mass evacuations, and billions of dollars in damages. Many responses to natural tragedies focus solely on rebuilding and strengthening failed infrastructure. Yet these responses do not take into account the important lessons we can draw from communities where better advanced planning has mitigated the effects of cyclones and typhoons. Investing in building resilient cities truly pays off.

For example, in early October, Typhoon Nari left many in Da Nang, Vietnam without power or shelter. It caused $41 million in damages, including $4.6 million in damages to homes. However, all of the equally poor households that had access to a program providing resources to make structural improvements on their homes were left unscathed.

These families participated in an innovative credit facility program from the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) in partnership with the Vietnam Women's Union. It provided them the local design and technical know-how to protect their homes from natural disasters. That these homes remained intact where others did not shows the importance of innovative partnerships in building resilience. They can help protect families from further poverty in the wake of a disaster.

The record-breaking severity of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines will require significant aid, planning and investment for the region to recover. Achieving a recovery that also enables long-term resilience will take new approaches and considerable capital.

Many cities recognize that approaching urban planning and development with long-term resilience in mind makes sense, but funding remains a challenge. This is especially the case in medium-sized Asian cities, which are facing unprecedented rates of growth in terms of population, geographic expansion and economic development.

A new $145 million trust fund at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) established by the UK Department for International Development, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the US Agency for International Development attempts to tackle this challenge. New grant funds from this Urban Climate Change Resilience Partnership (UCCRP) will be used to develop resilience plans, identify and prepare priority projects, and share knowledge on urban climate change resilience more broadly.

The funds will be available to at least 25 cities in disaster-prone Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam. This assistance will in turn help cities leverage $1 billion more in public and private investment for building resilient infrastructure.

UCCRP will enable cities to invest in areas such as storm-resistant housing and more resilient transit and water systems. It will also finance drainage and flood control measures. These anticipatory and adaptive measures can help ensure long-term safety for everyone, especially the poor. Ultimately, it could improve the lives of millions of urban poor facing increased vulnerability and uncertainty during cyclone and typhoon season.

This model is based on the foundation laid by similar resilience initiatives (including ACCCRN in Da Nang, Vietnam), where participating cities demonstrated the benefits of a new approach to planning and funding.

We've seen this work in Surat, India, where floods used to bring the city to a standstill resulting in 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. This coupled with a new mechanism for upstream reservoir management minimizes the risk of catastrophic events and increases the notice of flooding events, giving households time to respond and evacuate if necessary. By improving information flows, Surat is protecting people by limiting the disruption to livelihoods and businesses in at-risk communities.

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, there is an opportunity to integrate resilience planning at the scale needed to prevent the kind of devastation we've seen over the past two months. It is in our collective interest to see cities remain hubs of opportunity and growth. Providing them the necessary capital to build resilient systems that sustain them through future natural disasters is essential to realizing that interest.