Safer cities: Chief Resilience Officer Network kicks off in New Orleans

The 100 Resilient Cities initiative, headed by the Rockefeller Foundation and supported by Swiss Re, gathers the first set of Chief Resilience Officers to work on strategies and create a collaboration platform in a bid to help cities become less vulnerable to natural disasters and other risks.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept across Mississippi and Louisiana, killing more than 1,800 people and leaving a trail of damage estimated at USD 108 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in US history, and one of the deadliest. New Orleans became a symbol of the destruction.

Less than a decade later experts and government officials from around the country are gathering in New Orleans for the first Chief Resilience Officers Summit, part of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities Initiative. Swiss Re is one of program's founding partners.

Rockefeller Foundation Head Judith Rodin and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu are co-hosting the event.

Rebounding and thriving

“In a rapidly urbanizing world, cities cannot afford to remain crisis-driven and reactive,” said Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin. “Cities like New Orleans are at the forefront of fostering a resilience mindset that will be critical to proactively managing the inevitable challenges, shocks and stresses all cities will face.”

Landrieu said that partnering with 100 Resilient Cities will allow New Orleans to showcase its ability to successfully rebound, thrive after disasters and learn from others. "This opportunity will allow New Orleans to continue to identify the best approaches for dealing with our city’s inherited natural challenges. New Orleans is the country’s most immediate laboratory for innovation, and through collaborations with cities in the network, communities across the world will take on the physical, social and economic challenges that threaten our ability to thrive.”

Swiss Re hosted a reception and dinner for the Summit attendees on 5 November, during which Eric Smith, CEO Swiss Re Americas, provided welcoming remarks. 

Smith explained that 80% percent of global GDP today emanates from urban areas. "For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. On the one hand it's where proximity meets prosperity. On the other, it's where both human and economic costs of disaster multiply. Not just in terms of funding reconstruction, but also industries battered, jobs lost, and slashed public income."

Alarming and empowering news

"The alarming news is that the locations we have studied stand to lose as much as 12% of their annual GDP due to existing climate patterns.  The effects of economic growth and climate change drive that loss to as much as 19% of GDP – per annum," Smith continued.

"The empowering news is that adaptation measures that are already known and tested can avert a significant amount of loss, 40% or more is not unusual."

Measures range from building seawalls and dams to improving building codes and conducting awareness campaigns.  Physical, technological and behavioral resilience-building measures all have a role to play.  And, in most cases, these measures can be assembled in a cost-effective manner, where the benefits exceed the costs and address about half the expected annual loss in some cases.

Resilience:  beating risk and building opportunity

Smith said, "We believe in the importance of resilience for protection, innovation and as a driver of socio-economic progress. This has led Swiss Re to partner with the Clinton Global Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation and other organizations on the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge.

"Through public-private partnerships such as these we aren't just protecting what we have now. The cities that increase their resilience will be the cities that attract new business and create a better quality of life for their residents. The Chief Resilience Officer Summit in New Orleans is a first important step in making that a reality."

Published 5 November 2014

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