Nearly a century ago, the idea of “urban resilience” – helping cities prepare for, withstand and bounce back from disasters – had yet to be conceived. For good reason; at the time, only 10% of people around the world lived in cities.

Today, more than half of the world’s population resides in urban centres, a number expected to grow to 75% by 2050. Upwards of 60% of that growth is likely to be in Asia, where many cities are in low-lying coastal areas, subject to floods, typhoons, and other natural and climate-driven disasters. These types of shocks and stresses are but a snapshot of those facing Asia in the 21st century. Because while we have had rapid economic growth across East Asia, economic and social inequalities abound – from under-electrification to challenges of the informal economy, impacting the livelihoods of billions of vulnerable people.

That is why cities should invest in making their urban centres more resilient. We already see this type of action in East Asia. In Asia, the Rockefeller Foundation is helping more than a dozen Asian cities in four countries build their resilience to rapid urbanization and climate change. Challenges vary city by city – from drainage and flood management, emergency response, ecosystem strengthening, citizens’ awareness and disease control. But one thing is shared: the recognition that if we don’t take action now, the poor and vulnerable will bear the greatest consequences. Many don’t have the savings or the insurance to bounce back from today’s shocks and stresses.

Based on our learnings from the region, the Rockefeller Foundation is launching a wider effort to help 100 cities build urban resilience around the world by leveraging innovative financing to create citywide resilience plans, hiring a Chief Resilience Officer, and creating a network to share what works.

 Author: Ashvin Dayal Managing Director, The Rockefeller Foundation.

 Image: Aerial view of Yangon, Myanmar REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun