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Research Report

Understanding the nature and scale of urban risk in low- and middle-income countries and its implications for humanitarian preparedness, planning and response

Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2013
Pages: 89
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-5)

    More than half of the world’s population lives in urban centres and most low- and middle-income nations continue to urbanise (United Nations, 2012). As this paper will describe, urban centres are among the world’s safest and most risky places to live and work. Today, most of the world’s urban population and most of its largest cities are outside the most prosperous nations (see Table 1) — this is historically unprecedented. Almost all future growth in the world’s urban population is projected to be in low- and middle-income countries (ibid) (although some may become high-income nations). At present, Asia is the...

  2. (pp. 6-13)

    There are a wide range of physical, biological, technological and chemical hazards within urban areas that cause or contribute to both intensive (disasters) and extensive (small disaster and everyday) risk.

    Urban centres can be environments of extremely low or high risk, depending on a number of interrelated factors of which the presence of basic protective infrastructure, and the quality and capacity of local governance, are usually the most important.

    Across a city some groups will be more vulnerable to hazards than others, determined by cross-cutting issues such as income, gender, age, health status and so on.

    Urban risk often accumulates...

  3. (pp. 14-26)

    There are no disaster risk assessments for many cities, and where they do exist they frequently focus only on exposure to hazards. Together with a lack of local analysis, this makes it difficult to compare risk between different cities.

    A significant proportion of the literature on risk focuses on flood risks in large cities.

    There is a growing body of literature on risk from urban violence, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

    There is little data on urban risk in sub-Saharan Africa and in smaller urban centres worldwide.

    Urbanisation is likely to further complicate the disasters-conflict interface in fragile...

  4. (pp. 27-35)

    Urban risk is often created or exacerbated by local government’s incapacity to act in the public good, guide urban growth and ensure infrastructure and service provision.

    There are a number of cities where risks have been greatly reduced through ‘accumulated resilience’, good local governance and community-based responses.

    DRR needs to be mainstreamed into urban and development planning for the most resilient cities.

    Actions that are taken by individuals, households, communities, built environment professionals, urban authorities, civil society, the private sector, national governments and international agencies can all contribute to reducing urban risk in low- and middle-income countries. These responses can...

  5. (pp. 36-41)

    It is not possible to predict precisely how extreme weather related risks for cities will change, but it is possible to build into city development a resilience to more intense or frequent extreme weather.

    Few detailed risk/vulnerability assessments have been undertaken at the city scale, and of those that have been undertaken, most do not cover the complete spectrum of risks (including everyday risks and small disasters).

    Human-induced climate change is adding an extra dimension to understanding risk.

    There has been a gradual shift in focus to managing uncertainty (through developing resilience) rather than focusing on specific risks.

    To plan...

  6. (pp. 42-49)

    Humanitarian actors and agencies are increasingly directing their attention to urban areas and pursuing urban policy initiatives.

    Working in urban areas is outside the comfort zone of most humanitarian agencies.

    A rural approach will not fit most urban contexts.

    Understanding ‘how cities work’ from a systems perspective provides a useful entry point for understanding urban risk.

    More investment should be directed towards linking response, early recovery and reconstruction to long-term development, risk mitigation and resilience.

    Responses need to work with and be accountable to those who are most vulnerable.

    In the past couple of years there has been a surge...

  7. (pp. 50-52)

    Despite a growing body of research on urban risk in low- and middle-income countries, additional evidence is required, both to improve knowledge of this and to reduce its consequences. Some of this evidence is empirical and related to specific aspects of the physical environment and its response to particular shocks and stresses. Other elements are related to the functioning of social, financial and governance systems and how these may compound or effectively reduce risk. As urban risk is a function both of physical hazards and the social and economic systems upon which these impinge, both types of evidence are required...