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Why cultural heritage matters for urban resilience

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture

Across the disaster risk management community, there is growing recognition that protecting cultural heritage is fundamental to urban resilience. Traditional knowledge embedded in cultural heritage, such as historical evacuation routes or shelters, can help societies cope with natural hazards. Moreover, when these hazards disrupt cultural heritage sites, such as museums, monuments and places of worship, they often cause irreparable damage to people’s cultures, identities and livelihoods.

A case in point is last year’s devastating earthquake in central Mexico, which damaged over 1,500 historic buildings, including the 250-year-old Church of Santa Prisca, one of the country’s grandest and most beloved churches. Mexico is one of a number of countries that have undertaken major efforts to protect cultural heritage sites, including through its Plan Verde, which works to reduce seismic and other disaster risks in Mexico City’s historic center.

On the sidelines of the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, which was aptly held in Mexico City, Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit for the Culture Sector of UNESCO, made the case that much more needs to be done to put cultural heritage front and center in the disaster risk management agenda.

Understanding Risk Forum 2018: How data and technology can save (hundreds of) billions of dollars from natural disasters

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture

Natural disasters made 2017 a very expensive year.
 
At $330 billion, last year’s global losses from disasters set a record. These economic losses were primarily a result of meteorological events, such as floods and hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. An increasing number of people are also exposed to tectonic risks, such as earthquakes and landslides, due to rapid urbanization.
 
But growing disaster losses aren’t inevitable. Policy changes, education, and good disaster risk management practices have been proven to reduce losses – and the foundation of all of them is accurate, reliable information about disaster risks.
 
Risk data informs resilience investments. It drives decision-making. And it’s the focus of the open, global community of disaster risk management experts and practitioners called Understanding Risk (UR), which is supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).
 
This year, the community will convene at the Understanding Risk Forum 2018 May 14–18 in Mexico City. The Forum will highlight best practices, facilitate nontraditional partnerships, and showcase the latest technical knowledge in disaster risk identification.



It’s a critical time for a discussion of disaster risk information. A new GFDRR report, Aftershocks: Remodeling the Past for a Resilient Future, concludes that if past disasters were to repeat in the same places today, the losses would be far greater. Aftershocks, which will be discussed at UR2018, explores what we can learn from historic disasters to anticipate similar future events and build resilience ahead of time.
 
The good news is that the past few years have seen a surge of new ways to get more accurate, more detailed information more quickly, more easily, and in more difficult contexts. We can now use social media to gather increasingly valuable information in the immediate aftermath of an event. Drones are increasingly capturing high-quality images, and machine learning for image recognition is already helping us produce more and better risk data all the time.
 
These emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, will be one of the major themes of this year’s UR Forum. To find out more about the UR Forum, and how you can get involved, watch the video blog and visit understandrisk.org.
 
And don’t forget to keep up with all the great ideas coming out of #UR2018 by following along on Twitter: @UnderstandRisk, @GFDRR, and @WBG_Cities.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
 

Ponto-cho mapIt is 7:45 p.m. in Ponto-cho, the historic narrow alley at the core of the Japanese city of Kyoto. Close to the Kaburenjo Theater – where still today Geikos and Maikos (Kyoto Geishas) practice their dances and performances – the traditional adjoining buildings with restaurants and shops are full of guests. Local people, tourists, students… On this Saturday in mid-April, the warm weather brings a lot of people to the streets nearby.

At 7:46 p.m., a M 5.1 earthquake strikes. Seven seconds of swaying. It doesn’t cause major damage, but it is enough to spread panic among a group of tourists. Screams, shoving, confusion… drinks spill, candles fall, people rush.

At 7:49 p.m., the fire starts spreading through the old wooden structures, also threatening the historic theater. Access is difficult due to the narrow streets and panicking crowd.

What happens next?

It could be a fire in the Ponto-cho traditional alley. It could be an earthquake shaking the historic center of Kathmandu (Nepal), the archaeological site of Bagan (Myanmar), or the historic town of Amatrice (Italy). It could be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, blasting sites with rain, flooding, and gale-force winds.

Cultural heritage assets around the world are at risk. They are often vulnerable due to their age, as well as previous interventions and restorations made without disaster risk or overall site stability in mind. Heritage sites reflect legacies, traditions, and identities. With all this, they carry a large cultural and emotional value of what could be lost – certainly beyond the traditional calculus of economic losses.

In many cases, it is not possible or advisable to conduct reconstruction on cultural heritage sites post-disaster. Therefore, the essence and soul of a cultural heritage site is at risk of being lost forever, making preparedness and preservation even more critical.

How can we protect these special places and traditions from the threat of natural hazards?

Communicating volcanic risk: lava, eruptions and uncertainty

Jon Mikel Walton's picture
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA

We live in an age of compounding uncertainty. The unpredictable impacts of climate change and the rapid urbanization of societies is increasing the complexity, difficulty, and necessity of making sound decisions when faced with numerous options. This uncertainty is acute with respect to natural disasters – for example, predicting hurricane intensity or locating the next big earthquake remain challenging tasks despite advances in science and monitoring tools.
 
The challenge of anticipating and communicating the risk of volcanic eruptions to communities requires complex decision-making. Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano and Indonesia’s Mount Agung are recent examples where the warning signs were present (small earthquakes, increasing gas emissions, and more), yet an eruption came much later than expected. Volcanic eruptions are therefore a double-edged sword that often creates a decision-making dilemma. While signs of volcanic activity can provide adequate time for preparation and evacuation, the very same signs can also create conditions of extreme uncertainty, which can be exacerbated by piecemeal communication around eruption events.
 
So, what have we learned from recent experiences on the challenges of communicating volcanic risk? 

National and local leaders in Latin America: Sustainable cities are resilient cities

Sameh Wahba's picture
Cities are critical engines of global growth. But as cities grow, they’re increasingly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters.
 
The year of 2017 was one of many recent reminders of that “new normal”—from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria that pounded coastal United States and the Caribbean to the severe drought that struck Somali, which led to the displacement and even life losses of individuals and families.
 

The secret sauce for making the New Urban Agenda a success

Luis Triveno's picture

Also available in: Español | 中文

Credit: Lois Goh/ World Bank


Modernity’s most common story spanning national, cultural and religious borders is about people moving from rural areas to the cities. By 2030, 80% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas, following the dream of better jobs, education, and health care.

Too often, however, that dream risks remaining an urban daydream, due to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, as well as climate change. Those of us working to help these families find a better future must focus more on ways to support efforts to protect their lives – and their livelihoods.
 
In the 40 years since the launch of Habitat I, governments and municipalities throughout emerging and developing countries have been proving that their cities can be not only inclusive and secure, but also resilient and sustainable. However, unless they increase their speed and scale, they are unlikely to achieve the goals of the “New Urban Agenda” and its Regional Plans, launched at Habitat III in 2016.
 
From our perspective helping governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, and ahead of the World Urban Forum taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February, let us share three key ingredients necessary to achieve that goal:

Disaster risk and school infrastructure: What we do and do not know

Sameh Wahba's picture
This page in: Français
Credit: Tracy Ben/ Shutterstock

“At 14:28:04 on May 12, 2008, an 8.0 earthquake struck suddenly, shaking the earth, with mountains and rivers shifted, devastated, and parted forever….” This was how China’s official report read, when describing the catastrophic consequences of the Sichuan earthquake, which left 5,335 students dead or missing.
 
Just two years ago, in Nepal, on April 25, 2015, due to a Mw 7.8 earthquake, 6,700 school buildings collapsed or were affected beyond repair. Fortunately, it occurred on Saturday—a holiday in Nepal—otherwise the human toll could have been as high as that of the Sichuan disaster, or even worse. Similarly, in other parts of the world—Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Haiti, Ecuador, and most recently Mexico—schools suffered from the impact of natural hazards. 
 
Why have schools collapsed?

Engineering our way out of disasters – the promise of resilient infrastructure

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
Hurricane Irma moves through the Caribbean in this satellite image from September 5th, 2017.
Image credit: NOAA
The last few weeks have been a stark reminder of how natural disasters can undermine precious development progress in an instant. Images of incredible devastation in the Caribbean wrought by a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, collapsing buildings in Mexico during a violent series of earthquakes, and massive monsoon flooding in South Asia that claimed hundreds of lives have resulted in an outpouring of support from the international community.
 
Unfortunately, scenes like these are becoming more routine. The impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly visible, and rapid urbanization is concentrating risk in vulnerable regions of the world.
 
Just consider the following statistics:

Why mangroves matter for the resilience of coastal communities

Saurabh Dani's picture

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.

Why should we care about mangroves? Here are a few important reasons:

To achieve #Housing4All, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater

Luis Triveno's picture
This page in: ArabicFrançais | 中文

Mexico City. Photo by VV Ninci via Flickr CC

In a world divided over how to deal with such serious problems as terrorism, immigration, free trade, and climate change, governments agree on the urgency of solving what is arguably the biggest problem of all: supplying safe, well-located, and affordable housing for the billions of people who need it.

There is even agreement on the basic steps to that goal:  improving land management and adopting more tenure-neutral policies.

There is also consensus on the fact that government alone cannot afford to pay the bill.  According to McKinsey & Co., the annual price tag for filling the “global housing gap” ($1.6 trillion) is twice the cost of the global investments needed in public infrastructure to keep pace with GDP growth.
 
As we approach the 70th anniversary in 2018 of the declaration of housing as a “universal human right,” it’s time for governments to turn to an obvious solution for closing the housing gap that they continue to ignore only at their peril: long-term market finance. Without a substantial increase in private capital, the housing gap will continue to increase, and so will the odds of social discontent.

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