A man pulling three women through floodwaters

Making cities in East Asia more resilient to disaster shocks

Swiss Re at WEF East Asia: "Innovative risk solutions can help governments protect their communities and infrastructures against natural and weather-related disasters."

Michel Liès at WEF JakartaDeveloping Asian economies are forecast to grow by 8.4% in 2011 and continue to drive the world’s recovery from the financial crisis.

At the same time many of these countries are situated in one of the most disaster-prone areas in the world, with large agglomerations of people whose lives and livelihoods are likely to suffer in the face of the unexpected.

Fukushima, Christchurch and Brisbane are probably the most striking examples in 2011 of the crippling, long-term effect that such shocks can cause.

Managing global disruptions was one of the topics when the World Economic Forum (WEF) gathered in Jakarta 12-13 June 2011 for the regional East Asia summit “Responding to the New Globalism."

Michel M. Liès, Swiss Re’s Chairman Global Partnerships and Ivo Menzinger, Managing Director Global Partnerships, were present to contribute insights about risk solutions to natural catastrophes, food security and microinsurance challenges.

More can be done to establish insurance in Asia

“It often falls upon the shoulders of governments to protect vulnerable communities and infrastructures against natural and weather related disasters. This can involve difficult decisions about how to plan for and manage such risks,” said Liès.

As insurance penetration in many Asian economies is still very low, the first step for governments is always to encourage the establishment of well-functioning insurance market to obtain effective risk financing.”

Liès said that innovative pre-disaster risk financing solutions for the risks that are normally out of scope of the traditional insurance market could complement this. He also emphasised that much more can be done to apply mitigation and adaptation measures.

In this context Liès commended the new WEF pilot presented during the East Asia summit to create a scorecard for risk exposed cities. The ultimate aim is to develop a tool that will help officials and other stakeholders to better manage local disaster risks. Jakarta is one of the first cities to feature in that pilot.

An innovative solution

To give a local, practical example of what such adaptation measures can mean Ivo Menzinger mentioned Padang: One of the most populated cities in West Sumatra, Padang is situated close to an active offshore thrust-fault making it one of the most tsunami exposed locations in the world.

Although a number of measures have been implemented to protect Padang’s citizens against future tsunamis, including educating the public about tsunami risk and implementing early warning systems and evacuation routes and drills, this was clearly not enough. The M7.6 earthquake that struck the city on 30 September 2009, left many residents stranded in the flat areas of the city, stressing the need to create a solution that would allow people to escape to higher ground.

This resulted in the idea for a Tsunami Evacuation Raised Earth Park (TEREP) managed by GeoHazards International, with funding from Swiss Re. "Currently in the design phase, this innovative, cost efficient solution is easy to replicate, and has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives,” concluded Menzinger.

Image: Copyright World Economic Forum  / Photo by Sikarin Thanachaiary

Published 15 June 2011

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