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A Comprehensive Guide For Cities Looking To Not Be Destroyed

The World Bank thinks urban centers are going to be in for a rude awakening as climate-induced disasters increase. So it’s offering a helpful list of ways for governments to better prepare.

During Hurricane Irene, New York City got a small taste of what might happen when climate change really starts wreaking havoc. But cities will have to do more than just prepare for out-of-service subways and trains—especially in developing countries that don’t have lots of cash on hand. Think of the World Bank’s 100-page guide to climate adaptation as an instruction manual for city officials in developing nations who don’t want to deal with a rioting, poverty-stricken, disaster-ridden populace.

Before thinking about protection against climate change, cities need to first analyze the problems that lie ahead. The World Bank offers a lengthy list, including air pollution made worse by rising temperatures (and the urban heat island effect), more hurricanes and typhoons, overstressed power lines from summer heat waves, a decrease in both water quantity and quality because of droughts, and increased risk of death and illness from water-borne diseases.

These problems are exacerbated in urban settlements on the edge of cities. In 2006, for example, a Philippines settlement saw typhoons trigger avalanches, mudslides, and floods. Approximately 208 people died and 261 went missing.

So how can we build resilient cities that withstand climate change? The World Bank suggests some practical measures:

  • You know how painting roofs white are thought to cool off cities? Painting the tops of buses white might be able do the same thing.
  • Create sea walls to prevent coastal flooding. Just make sure they actually work, because we’ve all seen what happens when they don’t.
  • Plan ahead for flooding. This is easier in developing countries that are still building up an infrastructure. Instead of building a bridge clearance to accommodate current water levels, make sure that it can handle future water level estimates.
  • Build more pit latrines—they’ll help conserve precious water resources during droughts. This won’t work quite as well in flood-prone dense areas where contamination is a possibility.
  • Reuse wastewater to clean streets and water parks. We’re already seeing this happen throughout the world.
  • Follow Cuba’s example and promote urban gardening in preparation for food shortages. For example, in Havana, gardeners get legal priority for unused spaces. Quito, Ecuador offers urban farmers training and seeds.
  • This may seem obvious, but rely more on distributed energy systems and renewable energy sources. Climate change (i.e. giant storms) can disrupt oil and gas infrastructures, including pipelines and platforms. Flooded roads can also hinder fuel transportation.

In developing (and even developed) countries, the big problem is financing all of this. There are ways to do it. Public-private partnerships, grants, and loans can all help out. Convincing cities and private companies that the investment is worth it—well, that will be a challenge for a long time to come.

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  • Linda Weichel

    Convening cities and private companies to work together and identify the priorities for action is exactly what we're doing in in the Toronto Region with the newly launched WeatherWise Partnership, brought together by CivicAction and the City of Toronto.

  • Wize Adz

    This is an excellent question.  One of the pillars of sustainability is the social-economic pillar.  Energy is another pillar.  The actual environment (and ecosystems) is a 3rd.  All of these pillars are necessary to create actual sustainability.

    The some of the recommendations, such as choosing light colors during a roof's replacement cycle, and reusing wastewater where appropriate, are low-hanging fruit in the sustainability game.  They're a great start, be we shouldn't confuse these worthwhile actions with actually solving the world's problems.  The many of the other recommendations are mitigation, which also should not be confused with solving the world's problems.  Distributed energy and urban gardening are complex topics -- I'm enthusiastic about both (I garden and am shopping for PV panels), but the details and the economics matter a lot.

  • DisasterGirl10

    I couldn't let this article pass without commenting. While all of these ideas sound promising, the real way to prevent damage from natural disasters is to invest in and recognize the value of stronger, safer construction. At IBHS, we are a nonprofit dedicated to finding ways to make this a reality. We invite you to join us. We believe and our Habitat for Humanity projects prove that everyone can have a safe home no matter the price point. Our engineers are continually finding affordable ways to help home and business owners fortify their properties against disasters. This save taxpayers, governments and individuals in the long run and is also good for the environment because debris from the destroyed structures stays out of landfills. Our information is free to the public at Share it! Thanks.