After the rains stop (part 1)



After the rains stop is a two-part ImpactAlpha series highlighting ambitious experiments in housing and infrastructure, water and sanitation and flood control are helping cities become more resilient. Read part two, here:

After the rains stop (part 2)

Part 1

The scenes from Houston have global echoes in Niamey, Niger where extreme floods have also affected tens of thousands; or in India, Bangladesh and Nepal, where torrential monsoon rains are affecting tens of millions.

Last year, natural disasters caused $175 billion in damage worldwide and $46 billion in the U.S. (Harvey is projected to more than double that.)

Financial institutions are experimenting with ways to mitigate the costs and rebuild faster. Earlier this month, the World Bank issued $360 million in “catastrophe bonds” to Mexico to protect the country against the impact of earthquakes and tropical cyclones. Insurance giant Swiss Re rolled out a new insurance product, also in Mexico, to protect coastal coral reefs.

Each new disaster puts a spotlight on the future of urban planning too. Hurricane Harvey has exposed the potential tragedy of unchecked, unregulated development and put a spotlight on the recent rollback in environmental regulations for new infrastructure. And on “where we’re putting our pavement, where we’re putting homes in these low-lying vulnerable areas,”according to Sam Brody, a professor at Texas A&M, Galveston.

But even Houston’s weak zoning laws offer more in terms of security and standards than the sprawling, haphazardly built urban slums that house more than 800 million worldwide.

The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal №11(“Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”) calls for greater adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reductionby 2020, to enlist public and private stakeholders in disaster resilience. Some of the solutions have nothing to do with drainage.

In Mukuru, one of Nairobi’s biggest slums, residents are building resiliency to flooding with better housing, water, sewage and other infrastructure investments. With the urban population forecast to reach five billion by 2030, cities — and slums — will be at the forefront of climate change.

Around the world, ambitious experiments in housing and infrastructure, water and sanitation and flood control are helping slum residents adapt. The first step: secure land tenure.

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