Boosting disaster resilience


June 22, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Shirine Bakhat-Pont/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Shirine Bakhat-Pont/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Yovita Heni/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Ibu Durti (left), holding her baby, stands with friends in front of a temporary house near the railway line in North Jakarta. Photo: Yovita Heni/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    A little girl sits on the bank of the Krukut River, fishing derby numbers visible. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

If your family lived in a rickety shack on stilts and the waters were rising, you would hope your government had a plan. But if you were among the millions of poor people who inhabit some of the world’s most crowded and vulnerable Asian cities, there’s a good chance you’d be wrong.

That’s why Mercy Corps has joined the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN, pronounced a-sern), funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The consortium works in India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam to help protect the impoverished slum-dwellers who are least able to protect themselves. Mercy Corps is leading the Indonesia initiative, an extension of our work with Jakarta’s urban poor.

The potential to make a difference is vast. Forty-two percent of Indonesians live on less than $2 a day. Twenty-one million live in slums. Being poor puts urbanites squarely in harm’s way: Their houses are more likely to crumble in a quake and wash away in a flood. They lack the safety net to survive, the services to recover, the funds to rebuild. They lack a voice to advocate for their needs.

The Eye of the Storm
The cities of Asia crouch in the eye of a perfect storm that threatens millions of lives and livelihoods. It’s a ferocious confluence of natural and man-made hazards. The region has more than its share of cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanoes. And rural people are moving to urban centers faster than anywhere else in the world.

Most of those who leave the countryside are impoverished minorities. They land in ghettos, where shoddy construction points to nonexistent building codes. The sheer number of migrants strains already inadequate housing, sanitation and water systems. City governments lack the resources and planning expertise to respond to mushrooming demand.

Cities represent both problem and opportunity. High population concentrations strain urban resources – and yet, a single successful intervention can benefit multitudes.

Now consider how climate change wreaks even more flooding, drought and disease, among other harms, onto these densely populated, disaster-prone areas. With too many people, and too few services to defend them, it’s a perfect storm.

This is a crisis we can foresee – and prevent.

Where high population concentrations strain urban resources, a single successful intervention can benefit multitudes. In the developing world, a climate-smart city becomes a powerful beacon for constructive action. While other environmental issues – deforestation, emissions, biofuels – have attracted more attention from experts and the public, this consortium puts new focus on cities as places where the greatest numbers of people will experience the effects of climate change.

Mercy Corps and Urban Poverty
Mercy Corps’ programs in the slums of Jakarta are improving maternal and child nutrition, access to clean water and sanitation, and work opportunities in the formal and informal economies.
The ACCCRN consortium expands our urban poverty work. We’re applying our familiarity with Indonesia’s challenges and our expertise in mobilizing communities to take this important initiative first to two especially vulnerable cities, Bandar Lampung on Sumatra island and Semarang on Java island.

The initiative is deeply collaborative, bringing together leaders in local government, civil society and the private sector. Mercy Corps is partnering with Indonesia’s Urban and Regional Development Institute, an independent nonprofit that promotes sustainable development. Together we’re working closely with national and provincial governments, universities and research institutions, local nongovernment organizations and the private sector.

Beyond the Rhetoric
Today there’s no shortage of rhetoric about climate change. But ACCCRN is actually fortifying the resilience of poor communities in Asia. We’re looking closely at the circumstances of our pilot cities and figuring out practical actions that deliver real benefits.

We’re also facilitating discussions between our city partners and higher government, including the Ministries of Environment, Public Works, Finance and Health; the Climate Change Council; and the National Board of Meteorol- ogy, Geophysics and Climatology. We’ll share our results from Semarang and Bandar Lampung and replicate what we learn in other parts of the country.

Ultimately, the consortium will help build a framework of action for other Asian cities, using the ideas and approaches that prove successful in our smaller-scale trials. It’s an undertaking with the potential for enormous regional impact.