Over at Duncan Green’s FP2P, Debbie Hillier has introduced Oxfam’s new paper on resilience and inequality, “No Accident”. The paper focuses on how risk is unevenly distributed on a global scale, and how risk is “dumped” on the poor and powerless.
It even comes with a snazzy promo vid:
The rights-based approach to vulnerability is a welcome move. The suggestions for national governments include re-framing priorities, emphasising basic needs, pro-poor investments and using objective measures of validity. International actors are suggested to create support networks, recognising the importance of power analyses.
I’m particularly interested in their proposed institutional reforms. For instance, there needs to be long term flexible funding and cross-platform, cross-sector coordination. Yet focusing on national and global scales alone is not going to solve the problem.
Cities are expected to absorb all the world’s population growth, until the less-developed world is 67% urban by 2050. India in particular has and will continue to have the world’s second largest urban population, reaching 0.9 billion by 2050. These projections alone warrant careful attention to the diversity of experiences – and thus, institutions – within a nation.
“Resilience” is often spoken of as a buzzword. I think that’s because it’s never specified. Development actors need to be careful that their promotion efforts can answer the question: resilience to what?
Geographically speaking, port and trading cities are almost by default in low-elevation coastal zones (LECZ), defined as the area adjacent to the shoreline less than 10m above sea level. Consequently, urbanisation continues to bring a denser concentration of people and economic activities into an area at risk from sea-level rise and extreme weather events. Though risk mitigation is the best strategy, it is too late to not consider adaptation to climate change.
Insert the necessary scary picture:
As such, there is a dire need to consider how to assist cities to build resilience to water- and climate-related risks. Other risks are prominent as well, such as conflict, though I focus on water issues.
I believe one aspect missing from the Oxfam report is a focus on learning about what is already being done on the ground, rather than just focusing on the role of international actors. There needs to be learning before diving right in.
Don’t get me wrong, much is being learnt on building urban resilience. I’m looking forward to the outcomes of next week’s Resilient Cities 2013 Conference in Bonn, Germany. In particular, the move to study South Asian cities is growing, though these studies tend to focus on the mega-metropolises of Delhi and Mumbai. This is one of the reasons I’ll be focusing on Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, formerly known as Madras. My graduate research will contribute to this growing strand of research, as part of the Chance2Sustain research project. The idea is to see what hybrid formations are already in place, and to help fill in the gaps to contribute to building urban resilience.
The take-home message is that resilience is about being flexible enough to respond to specific risks, in light of particular social vulnerabilities. As I said, the rights based approach is a welcome direction. Thus, a holistic approach needs a cross between urban studies, development studies and geography: What type of risks, where and to who, in which institutional context? Then can we make concrete contributions to building urban resilience.