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Approaching multi-hazard resilience in Africa after COVID

Multi-hazard resilience is traditionally described as the preparedness of a city, or a country to respond to some unforeseen events such as floods, hurricanes, droughts, tsunamis, or other emergencies. Not very often is this topic connected to non-climate related emergencies.

Nonetheless, the year 2020 brought a very different stressor to the infrastructure of cities and challenged our systems and the functionality of a city, a health crisis. How has the resilience of African cities been tested and evolved as a result of the pandemic? We look at examples from some of the cities that CIAP is working with.

Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Located on the southern shore of Lake Tana, Bahir Dar is Ethiopia’s third largest city and is affected by frequent floods, poor irrigation of water, among other risks. The city is looking at projects that collectively are addressing most of these hazards by working with the city´s wetlands and other infrastructure which will help the city government to continue with its plan to develop the city in its current borders. This project also supports the city´s plan to transfer to sustainable transport and more resilient housing options which will address the non-climate hazards like overcrowding or overburden of the service systems followed by their dysfunction as it happened during this year.

How do we enhance the multi hazard resilience of African cities?

This pandemic like any other natural disaster has emphasised that data and information are the backbones of any response, therefore effective multi-hazard resilience actions will include measuring of different indicators at the city level to enable stakeholders make informed decisions. Obtaining data remains a crucial challenge across the region, even so, there are very encouraging efforts underway. In Niamey, Nairobi and Kampala data collection on city preparedness is ongoing to help these cities build their resilience and disaster preparedness. Other cities like Dar es Salaam or Yaoundé are building open data sources to enable open access to relevant data encouraging further synthesis for decision making. While the progress is remarkable, more needs to be done to prevent the enormous effect disasters may have on African cities.

We can help African city governments expand their capacity to respond to these challenges, making sure there is a response system that encompasses scenarios for the most vulnerable, and at the same time taking into consideration crucial infrastructure for the basic functionality of a city. We should also rethink how we approach multi-hazard resilience in infrastructure and act proactively in building new infrastructure by making it more accessible and flexible in use.

COVID-19 has reminded us that we need to trigger investments that will reduce the likelihood of future or cascading shocks. Building Back Better[1] is one objective of the Cities Investment Advisory Platform, where we help cities increase the capacity of city governments to map the service demands and requirements of their residents into clear infrastructure needs, ultimately structuring and delivering bankable sustainable development projects.

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[1] Originally used in Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 by the UN. Lately used in plans to address a “new” risk (pandemic) in the resilience of cities and infrastructure by, among others, World Resource Institute and OECD.
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