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Disaster risk must be ingrained in urban strategies, ADB official says

Tacloban, a city in the Philippines, was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. (Henry Donati/Department for International Development)

As cities expand in population and geography, they’re failing to keep pace with disaster protection. Vinod Thomas, director general for the Asian Development Bank, warns in an op-ed that some major cities are unprotected from natural hazards, with slum dwellers most vulnerable.

“Disaster risk reduction needs to be ingrained in urban and national strategies,” Thomas writes. “Resilience cannot be built by ad hoc and reactive projects.”

An example is Tacloban in the Philippines, which was unprepared for the wrath of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, he writes. But cities in the developed world are not immune. New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Parts of New York City were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Even Singapore, a city-state known for its visionary urban planning, is flood prone.

For many cities, urban development is a risky proposition. Investment and construction move forward with no guarantee that new structures won’t be washed away, Thomas says. Mismanaged planning, deforestation and overzealous groundwater extraction make matters worse.

Singapore offers a model for a path forward. It is investing in subterranean water storage tanks and improving weather forecasting. Tokyo and Jakarta are making significant investments in flood protection that could save money — and lives — in the future. 

Asian Development Bank

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