The ability to bounce back

Resilience is the key driver of sustainability. We cannot improve economic efficiency, protect and restore our ecological systems and enhance social well-being if we remain seriously vulnerable to natural disasters. This is what urban resilience is about.

Because today more people live in cities than anywhere else on the planet, it is the cities that need to make the kinds of far-sighted investments necessary to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. As David Miller, World Bank special advisor on urban issues and former mayor of Toronto wrote in a the Financial Times 2012 special supplement Urban Ingenuity, "Cities are where the people are and where the solutions can, will and must be found." This is why Swiss Re believes in building urban resilience.

Infrastructure investment is key

How can we facilitate the kind of investment necessary to help urban communities cope with natural disasters such as flooding and landslides?  In Brazil, for example, with many cities vulnerable to river and flash floods, the government is constructing reservoirs to control the flow of flood water into rivers and soil containment walls on hillsides. It's also carrying out improvements to city drainage systems. But public works like these are enormously expensive and need to be carefully planned.

This is where insurance can play an important part in the role of enabling the risk taking that is necessary for such projects to be financially viable. That's why we are currently putting a lot of effort into making infrastructure investment easierand more transparent, supporting its transformation into a separate asset class.

Learn more about how we're helping build urban resilience in our special section.

The job of the resilience officer

For several years now, Swiss Re has been advocating the appointment of public officials solely dedicated to ensuring that we prepare more systematically for extreme weather events: community resilience officers. One of the jobs of such community resilience officers would be to be to drive the kind of public-private collaboration necessary to make available funding for adaptation at a time when it is needed more urgently than ever.

We believe that this kind community risk management approach will help our cities bounce back more quickly following a natural catastrophe.  This is one reason why we are supporting the Rockefeller Foundation initiative 100 Resilient Cities to help communities around the world become more resilient. And our help has also included providing expert guidance in the hiring of Chief Resilience Officers, city officials who will be charged with developing resilience strategies for their communities.

The pivotal role of the insurance industry

As an ultimate risk taker, the insurance industry has a vested interest in new infrastructure investments, upgrades to ageing infrastructure and adaptation measures. It is also well aware that however robust a city's infrastructure, the cost of relief and reconstruction will always constitute a financial burden for the region impacted. This is where its risk transfer products come in which help bridge the gap between economic and insured losses. To find out more about the role of the insurance industry in helping communities cope with the consequences of natural disasters, go to our special urban resilience section.  Also look at our Swiss Re publication Mind the Risk. Or head over to our Open Minds blog to take part in the urban resilience dialogue.

Published 8 July 2014

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