Natural hazard events can occur in any country, at any time. At present, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are dealing with the aftermath of some of the worst monsoon flooding in years, which has left more than 1,200 people dead and millions homeless. At the same time, North America and the Caribbean region are responding to some of the strongest hurricanes on record.
At such times of peril, individual and community resilience is at a premium, and we cannot afford to miss opportunities to bolster that resilience wherever possible. This is especially true with respect to certain groups – such as persons with disabilities – who have historically been disproportionately affected by natural hazards.
While some strides have been made in addressing the needs of persons with different disabilities in response and recovery efforts, fewer efforts are aimed at incorporating lessons into long-term disaster and climate risk management at a systemic and/or policy level.
In 2006, I was working in Aceh, Indonesia (with the Red Cross), a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Amongst other post-disaster recovery activities, we were working with 20 coastal communities, helping them with community-managed small grants and encouraging them to invest in disaster resilience within their communities.
To my delight, all 20 communities, independently, chose to invest in the restoration of their mangroves that had been completely or partially destroyed by the tsunami. To them, losing their mangroves was like losing their ancestors: Mangroves defended them, provided them with food and a livelihood, and made their coastline beautiful. The mangroves were their pride, and reclaiming the mangroves was of the highest priority for them as a community.
These risks could be disastrous for the urban poor, 881 million of whom currently live in slums (up 28 percent since 2000). And climate change – which is increasing the intensity and frequency of natural disasters – will only exacerbate the problem. For this reason, multilateral and government institutions now see resilience and climate adaptation as integral pillars of development.
Many developing economies have experienced fast growth in recent years. With such growth comes an increasing spatial concentration of economic activity—as documented in the World Development Report—leading to rapid urbanization in those economies.
While some cities have grown, others still lag behind. Such inequalities in development are usually characterized by weak economic performance, low human development indicators, and high concentration of poverty. For example, Mexico achieved incredible growth as a nation, yet per capita income in the northern states is two or three times higher than in the southern states. Disparities in other social and infrastructure metrics are even more dramatic.