Making Cities Resilient

by the Secretariat of the United Nations Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR)

UNISDR – informing and connecting people

cityUNISDR is the Disaster Risk Reduction Office of the United Nations and is at heart of a global partnership that plays a vital role in raising awareness of the tangible socio-economic benefits of disaster risk reduction. It was established in 1999 as a focal point for these issues within the United Nations system. It coordinates international efforts on disaster risk reduction through support to implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action, organizes the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction every two years, and advocates for greater investment and the integration of disaster risk reduction into policies and programmes for climate change adaptation. UNISDR informs and connects people by providing practical tools and publishing the biennial Global Assessment Report, an authoritative analysis of global disaster risk.

Disaster risk is an escalating problem in urban areas where population and economic assets are concentrated. A campaign launched in May 2010 has created a global network of local governments committed to reducing risk and building more resilient cities.

Rapid unplanned urbanization, coupled with ecosystem degradation, increases communities’ vulnerability to floods, landslides, storm surges and seismic hazards. Local governments often need to be frontline responders when these types of disasters occur. To help them prepare, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) created the Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready! campaign.

The campaign is premised on three points: know more, invest wiser and build more safely. Mayors, by joining the campaign and with the consent of their city councils, agree to uphold a 10-point checklist for making cities resilient to disasters caused by natural hazards. This list of Ten Essentials form the basis of a city’s commitment, and is the organizing principle around which members pool together good practices, tools, resources and frameworks for reporting and monitoring progress.

Local government bodies oversee cities of different sizes, characteristics, risk profiles and locations. Their efforts are reinforced through the campaign by a supportive group of partner organizations. Through high-profile media and public awareness activities, the campaign is helping local governments build a strong sense of political commitment to reducing disaster risk and engaging in climate change adaptation. Partner organizations are working alongside campaign cities to develop specific technical tools to build the capacity of campaign cities.

The 2011 Chengdu Declaration for Action defines a five-point strategy for the coming years and is an important next step in implementing the Making Cities Resilient campaign. The declaration builds on commitments made in the Mayors’ Statement on Resilient Cities presented at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, held 8–13 May 2011 in Geneva.

Making climate change action a priority

There is also an urgent need to address climate change implications and to provide practical guidance for adaptation and mitigation at the local level. These measures will help minimize potential disaster losses due to climate variability and extreme weather events that have immediate implications.

Local governments can provide political leadership to assist efforts to reverse climate change and reduce climate risk. Partners such as meteorological departments or research institutions can play a significant role in supporting cities by providing climate information for use at the local level. This data can be incorporated into risk and vulnerability assessments, which are, for example, critical for integrated flood and drought-risk management.

One of the main concerns of local governments is budget allocations for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, which requires a change in global financing systems from the current top-down approach to a locally-orientated, demand-driven approach. Effective local action requires financial resources as well as political authority and human capacity, which both need to be strengthened at the local level.

Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready! builds on a campaign for safer schools and hospitals, whose elements have been incorporated in the Ten Essentials. A special pledging initiative, the One Million Safe Schools and Hospitals Initiative, was launched as an activity under the campaign.

Strong partnerships are key

By September 2011 more than 800 local governments in 74 countries had joined the campaign. Local governments are represented by mayors or governors and their councils, covering different urban scenarios, sizes and regions.

The campaign receives support from role models and campaign champions: 18 local governments have been nominated as role models of good practice and 11 campaign champions – local government leaders – have been assigned to promote and encourage other leaders to take action in this field.

At least 25 partner organizations have officially committed to support specific areas of delivery within the campaign. Organizations at the regional and local level are becoming increasingly engaged in supporting specific cities or provinces. According to the Campaign Advisory Panel, “The beauty of the campaign lies in the partnership, as multiplier.”

Campaign partner organizations include the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (WB-GFDRR), the Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Community Practitioners Platform, the Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and others.

Professional groups involved with the built environment, as well as city and town planners, have joined the campaign to refine planning principles and provide guidance on resilience. United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainable Development, CityNet (Asia/Pacific) and the Earthquakes and Megacities Initiative (EMI) are active members. They ensure political commitment and outreach to local governments through their policy and sharing platforms. Several regional and national associations of local governments are committed to promoting the campaign’s objectives and to helping members report on progress.

Ten-point checklist – essentials for making cities resilient 
  1. Put in place organization and coordination to understand and reduce disaster risk within the local government, based on participation of citizen groups and civil society – build local alliances. Ensure that all departments understand their role and contribution to disaster risk reduction and preparedness.
  2. Assign a budget for disaster risk reduction and provide incentives for homeowners, low-income families, communities, businesses and public sector to invest in reducing the risks they face.
  3. Maintain up-to-date data on hazards and vulnerabilities; prepare risk assessments and use these as the basis for urban development plans and decisions. Ensure that this information and the plans for your city’s resilience are readily available to the public and fully discussed with them.
  4. Invest in and maintain infrastructure that reduces risk, such as flood drainage, adjusted where needed to cope with climate change.
  5. Assess the safety of all schools and health facilities and upgrade these as necessary.
  6. Apply and enforce realistic, risk-compliant building regulations and land-use planning principles. Identify safe land for low-income citizens and develop upgrading of informal settlements, wherever feasible.
  7. Ensure education programmes and training on disaster risk reduction are in place in schools and local communities.
  8. Protect ecosystems and natural buffers to mitigate floods, storm surges and other hazards to which your city may be vulnerable. Adapt to climate change by building on good risk reduction practices.
  9. Install early warning systems and emergency management capacities in your city and hold regular public preparedness drills in which everyone participates.
  10. After any disaster, ensure that the needs of the survivors are placed at the centre of reconstruction with support for them and their community organizations to design and help implement responses, including rebuilding homes and livelihoods.

Looking to the future

A longer-term programme, expected to continue at least until 2015, will build on successes and partnerships established in 2010. It will focus on creating opportunities to pool resources and form partnerships to support implementation of the Ten Essentials. The campaign will focus on supporting concrete actions and shared learning among cities with similar risks and issues. Benefits will be derived from the wealth of knowledge gathered from role models and campaign champions. Securing media coverage and raising the visibility of campaign cities will be important for raising awareness at the global, national and local level.

The areas of action until 2015 include:

  • Coordination and advocacy through role models with different areas of expertise, who will increase outreach to cities, local governments or mayors, sensitize policy dialogues, and mobilize resources;
  • Enhancing capacity through city-to-city learning, training and twinning of cities, support planning and implementing the Ten Essentials, and conducting e-training modules;
  • Developing tools and resources such as the Handbook for Mayors, web-based inventories of resources, and documenting and sharing practices;
  • Reporting on progress by using city resilience indicators and local HFA monitoring, and sharing good practice; and
  • The One Million Safe Schools and Hospitals Initiative.

How can you support the campaign?

  • Inform your national or local government about the campaign and the Ten Essentials for making cities resilient;
  • Promote the campaign at national and local events;
  • Nominate cities or local governments in your country, or offer to twin with another city;
  • Document and share good practices to reflect your work on any of the Ten Essentials and send your story or good practices to UNISDR; and
  • Identify projects and investment opportunities to support actions in a city, or contact UNISDR for ideas to finance the campaign.

Read more about how specific stakeholder groups can support the campaign or contact us: isdr-campaign[at]


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