The stark statistics jump out at anyone trying to understand why resilient infrastructure is so important in a world that is urbanising at an unprecedented pace, not least here in India. Already around 34% of India’s population lives in cities and this demographic cohort is expected to grow in the years ahead. This growing rate of urbanisation and the subsequent increase in population density is bringing massive new investments in infrastructure. Bridges, roads, dams, power stations and electrical grids are just some of the services and facilities that need to be built to serve burgeoning urban populations. Half of the infrastructure needed in Asia by 2050 is yet to be built. It is estimated that, globally, $6 trillion needs to be invested in infrastructure every year until 2030 to meet current demands.
This level of investment provides a window of opportunity to ensure that all new infrastructure is made resilient to withstand future shocks, including those brought by a changing climate. Disasters in heavily populated urban areas can lead to high numbers of human casualties. It is sobering to note that unsafe infrastructure which collapses in an earthquake or tsunami kills more people than any other type of natural hazard, such as a tornado or a storm. Economic losses from disasters that damage infrastructure can reach huge proportions. The World Bank estimates that annual disaster losses are already close to $520 billion and that disasters push up to 24 million people a year into poverty.
Ensuring that all new investments in infrastructure are made in a risk-sensitive way can play a significant role in reducing economic losses from disasters. There is no excuse for infrastructure to continue to be damaged or destroyed by recurrent hazards when we know that a small investment — often just a small percentage of the total cost of investment — can make the infrastructure resistant to many shocks. The dividend is that money saved from relief and rebuilding costs can be invested in development objectives, such as education, health care or improved transportation, helping countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the objectives of the Second International Workshop on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, being hosted on March 19-20 under the initiative of the Indian government and with support from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, is to pursue the creation of a global coalition for resilient infrastructure. The coalition will also ensure that new risks are not created, as enshrined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the global plan for reducing disaster losses. Such international cooperation and shared commitment are needed to “future-proof” our cities and lock-in resilience for generations to come.
The writer is the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction
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