CAIRO – 22 December 2021: According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), 50 percent of the world population lives in urban areas, generating 80 percent of global GDP, with urban residents estimated to compose two thirds of inhabitants worldwide by 2050. Hence, the organization issued a report detailing urban resilience.
As defined by the UN Habitat, urban resilience means "the measurable ability of any urban system, with its inhabitants, to maintain continuity through all shocks and stresses, while positively adapting and transforming toward sustainability." The shocks and stresses can be natural, human-made, and hybrid.
Natural disasters include tsunamis, earthquakes, natural climate variability and extremes, and volcanic eruptions, while human-made ones are financial crises, industrial accidents and geopolitical volatility. As for hybrid disasters, which are the outcome of interaction between nature and humans, they are pollution, anthropogenic climate change, floods, droughts, deforestation and pandemics.
The UNDP underscores that most cities are located in areas that are more vulnerable to disasters, as they lie in zones like "floodplains, steep slopes, contaminated land and poor air quality." A case in point is that 65 percent of cities stretch along coasts, and the percentage is expected to become 74 percent by 2050. Another risk factor pertinent to cities is high densities coupled with lack of adequate services and infrastructure.
Resilience has four levels. The first is awareness, which consists of instantly identifying risks, preparing to face them, and supporting relevant actions. The second is coping, which is about devising systems that can endure "critical shocks" while sustain their essential functions, "allowing for recovery over time." The third is adapting, which revolves around ingraining withstanding shocks in various institutions. The fourth and last is transformation whereas readiness to absorb shocks goes in tandem with "unlocking suppressed economic and social potential."
The report warns that most ongoing resilience initiatives are focused on cities with more than one million inhabitants, which makes smaller cities overlooked. There are also some areas of the world that do not benefit from such programs, like Latin America, the Middle-East and North Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and the majority of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. On the other hand, countries receiving resilience help are mostly in Europe, East Asia, and South-East Asia, in addition to the United States.
Regarding obstacles to urban resilience, they can be economic, such as poverty, unemployment, and existence of informal sector, as well as social, such as rural-urban migration, crime and violence, gender inequality and low-quality infrastructure. There are also the problems of lack of space and governance. That is in addition to environmental factors such as climate change, and population growth creating more demand on resources.