Urban areas in Asian countries continue to face significant disaster risk. While this is partly due to the interplay of economic and physical geography which has resulted in many Asian cities being located in natural hazard-prone areas, such as coasts and riverbeds, it is the rapid unplanned growth of cities—the alterations in the land use pattern; the location and choice of infrastructure, businesses, and housing, which is further increasing the exposure and vulnerability of urban populations and their physical assets to natural hazards. With the changing intensity and, in some cases, frequency of hazards with climate change, it is expected that urban areas in Asia will continue to be impacted by extreme events.
However, this need not be the case. The current trend of growing disaster risk in Asian cities can be reduced, halted, and even reversed, by adopting urban land use management processes, which provide opportunities to better understand how natural hazards in and around urban areas interact with existing and future urban growth patterns and the types of investments that can be undertaken to promote development in a risk-sensitive manner. While many land use management processes—land use planning, development control instruments, greenfield development, and urban redevelopment—are well established in most Asian cities, there remain large gaps in implementation. With large investments in infrastructure and services expected over the next several decades in Asian cities and the potential that land use management processes bring in reducing and/or at least limiting disaster risk, practicing risk-sensitive land use management has become more important than ever.
Reducing disaster risk through urban land use management processes requires long-term systemic thinking. It requires inputs from various disciplines and across different stakeholders; and, above all, it requires a good understanding of the land’s natural, socioeconomic, and political dimensions. Urban planners with their proficiency in land use management and understanding of complex political economy are a unique resource. While institutionalization of urban planning as a profession within the larger process of city management remains uneven in Asian countries, greater effort is needed to strengthen a city’s overall planning capacity so that important functions related to risk-sensitive development can be fully discharged. In cases, where such capacity exists—either at the city or national level or within national planning agencies—the urban planners as a professional group needs to step up and embrace disaster risk reduction and utilize the land use management-related tools at their disposal to reduce disaster risk, and contribute to strengthening urban resilience and sustainable urban development.
Preety M. Bhandari
Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management;
Technical Advisor (Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management)
Asian Development Bank
Technical Advisor (Urban and Water);
Asian Development Bank