How Cities Are Helping Lead The World’s Disaster Risk Reduction Efforts

With over half of the world’s population living in urban environments, the actions of city leaders and local stakeholders could prove to be powerful agents of change in achieving the goals of the Sendai Framework to build meaningful resilience and disaster risk reduction across the globe.

According to Ricardo Mena, Head of Regional Offices at UNISDR, and Dan Lewis, Chief of Urban Risk Reduction at UN – Habitat, a combination of factors are allowing cities to become major leaders to enact the Sendai objectives. Mena and Lewis offered their thoughts in a live online discussion moderated by Zilient.org editor Megan Rowling. The session took place a week before the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico.

A video of the entire online discussion is available below.

Local Leadership

Mena said city leaders are able to advance a resilience agenda because in multiple countries, mayors are often repeatedly elected to their offices and may outlast more prestigious executive office-holders at levels above them. Their longer tenures can change their political calculus, leading some of these mayors to actively explore ways to increase resilience efforts in their communities.

“Mayors may face the fact that yeah, it’s unlikely you will have to face a disaster in four years, but maybe if you don’t do something and you stay for eight years, then you may be liable and this might have big political implications on your future,” Mena said.   

Some 3,500 city leaders have given a “political commitment” to building resilience programs in their areas, Lewis said, explaining the widespread efforts to prevent or reduce the consequences of disaster events.

“That’s the very first thing – if there’s no political commitment, there’s very, very little opportunity to create a systematic risk reduction or disaster risk management or a resilience agenda that can be taken forward,” he said.  

Lewis said work was underway to increase the number of partner cities to 5,000 by 2020.  

International Partners

Lewis said international agencies have increased their efforts to support local governments and cities. He cited UNISDR’s re-launch of the Making Cities Resilient campaign in 2016 as one example, along with a network of resources local governments can draw upon for knowledge and help, such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and others.

In Mena’s view, the greater willingness of local and national governments, private stakeholders and other groups to work together is a result of the Sendai Framework’s adoption in 2015.

“Sendai, in a way, was an international instrument that made substantive changes to the way we were handling risk. It really changed this paradigm from managing disasters to managing disaster risk,” he said.

Cancun Expectations

Looking ahead at possible developments from the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mena believes the meeting will produce new recommendations for countries to follow as a way to move closer to achieving the Sendai Framework’s goals for the next two years, until a similar meeting in 2019 in Switzerland.
Lewis said he hoped a mechanism or structure would be agreed to during the event to help link the reporting and monitoring of goals between local and national governments and with outside groups to more accurately gauge resilience efforts and achievements.