The frequency and impact of disasters is increasing, whether measured by loss of life or economic costs. This trend is set to continue as the risks associated with climate change are compounded by rapid urbanisation and environmental degradation. In 2010, 300 million people were affected by disasters, and according to recent studies, the number of people living in cities that are vulnerable to earthquakes and cyclones will treble by 2050. There are also over 30 million people who are currently displaced, having fled conflict or persecution. Estimates claim that by 2050, 200 million more migrants may be fleeing the effects of climate change. Our collective ability to reduce the risk of disaster will increasingly define the 21st century, requiring civil engineers to recognise their role in enabling communities to survive as well as to thrive.
The last 30 years has seen increasing acknowledgement of the vital role that engineers play in humanitarian response providing clean water, sanitation and shelter, and the roads, bridges and buildings needed to facilitate delivery of food and medical supplies. Over the same period advances in science and technology have enabled us to better predict the forces of nature, and construct taller and more complex structures that are able to better withstand extreme events. Yet the uncertainties of climate change and the pace of urbanisation challenge the ‘predict and prevent’ paradigm that has underpinned geo-hazard engineering to date, whilst recent disasters have emphasised the limitations of international response. A new approach is required which prioritises creating resilient communities which are able to respond and adapt to changing circumstances and unexpected catastrophes.
by Jo da Silva – GGCS resilience session Keynote speaker and panellist
Director of International Development, Arup