Building resilience in cities |

A month ago, New York City saw a catastrophic and unprecedented deluge of flood waters from Hurricane Ida. In Athens, summer fires recently ripped through a wealthy suburb called Varympompi. California has reached its second year of drought, equivalent to the driest years ever recorded in the state in 1976 to 1977.


And then there are the road accidents. Some cities in India, for example, see more than a hundred deaths a year and the number is even growing.

We are certainly living in a different world and the need for smart and safe cities that can solve disaster-related problems continues to increase rapidly.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction for Northeast Asia (UNDRR), in a recent forum, said there is a growing need to establish smart, safe cities in which all citizens can benefit directly from focused safety strategies, including disaster prevention.

At the recent International Urban Resilience Forum, the UNDRR said that to accelerate these efforts, partnerships with businesses, communities, and local governments worldwide would be crucial.


From the Philippines, Makati City shared its initiatives and plans during the forum’s discussion on Cities’ Actions against Everyday Disaster Risks.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cripple economies and wreak havoc on humanity around the world. Conversely, however, it has accelerated the digital transformation of cities aiming for sustainable and inclusive progress. Makati is one of them,” said Makati City Mayor Abby Binay.

Thus, she said, when the pandemic struck, those who readily participated in the city’s digital initiatives were the first to reap the benefits.

It is crucial, she said, to be in a constant state of preparedness.

“The pandemic has taught us the hard way that everyone, regardless of our roles and standing in society, must be in a constant state of preparedness. This means not ignoring the increasingly catastrophic effects of climate change, even as we struggle with the pandemic,” she said.

Sustainable recovery

The UN Disaster Office said sustainable recovery is crucial and resilience is the key to helping cities withstand unexpected shocks.

“To prevent chronic and potential disasters, we need a systematic risk control strategy that minimizes damage, reduces vulnerabilities, and helps people adjust to changes rather than focusing on post-recovery measures,” UNDRR said.

Recovery plan

Makati City’s recovery plan tackles three phases: continuity, transition, and sustainable recovery.

“Our priorities under emergency and health support include a city-based program on research and development for disease outbreaks and health emergencies. This may soon be realized with the imminent completion of our new hospital in the city’s first district through a joint venture agreement,” Binay said.

Partnering with the private sector

In all, Binay said, not all localities are created equal and should, therefore, explore ways to enhance partnerships with the private sector, the academe, national government agencies, and international organizations in promoting resilience and sustainability.

“This will open up growth opportunities and much-needed access to risk financing, knowledge and technology transfer, to name a few of a multitude of advantages,” she said.

She cited a public-private partnership in Makati with the ongoing construction of the Makati Subway.

“We expect to achieve recovery strategies for mobility and transportation, including on-demand mass transit solutions with strict safety standards. The PPP-led initiative is expected to connect key areas in the city, provide jobs to around 10,000 people, reduce GHG emissions, and improve air quality,” she said.

Transformative leadership

To build resilience in cities, the UNDRR underscored the need for transformative leadership.

Binay agreed, saying that there is a need for local leaders like her to realign focus, redesign development plans, and shift to agile, adaptive, and proactive governance.

This way, she said, solutions that are practical, actionable, and sustainable could be developed.

“Through collective action and actionable plans, we can build resilient communities, which are the building blocks of resilient nations,” she said.

Metro Manila

For sure, Metro Manila’s cities, including Makati, have a long way to go in building resilience, but they should continue realigning their focus and even their urban plans to help withstand unexpected shocks in the future.

As the UNDRR said, it is an urgent task for humankind to effectively prepare for and respond to any unexpected disaster that might come our way.

Thus, cities of yesterday, like those without hospitals or emergency health centers or basic social services, will no longer work today because they are unresponsive to the changing needs of the people.

Instead, cities should enable their citizens not only to survive in the face of disaster, but also to thrive toward a better tomorrow.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at

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