Please note: After several successful years, the Open Minds blog will be closing. For further details, please visit our FAQ

Currently showing: Climate/natural disasters > Resilience

17 Jun 13 06:41

Resilience can mean a dozen different things. For example, it can imply how well a community or city can withstand a natural disaster and bounce back afterwards. And this quality can be as much about the population's strength of spirit as about physical resources. It is also 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.

So 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 a former mayor of Toronto wrote, "cities are where the people are and where the solutions can, will and must be found."

Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the vulnerabilities of a world city like New York – and then there was the awful devastation and tragedy wrought by the tornadoes in Oklahoma.

So what can be done to strengthen our resilience? First of all, the longer we delay adapting to the impact of severe weather and climate change the greater the challenge will become.

As I said, we should start in the cities. Public-private collaboration – with the participation of the insurance sector – would help drive adaptation, making available more funding for infrastructure projects in the urban environment. City governments also need to plan for natural disasters more systematically before they happen. Here, too, risk management experts from the global re/insurance industry could provide valuable assistance.

It is because we believe that the insurance industry has a crucial role to play in this context that Swiss Re America's Chairman Phil Ryan recently participated in a roundtable with a group of U.S. city mayors. Part of the Clinton Global Initiative's Mid-Year Meeting in New York City, the roundtable discussed tangible steps that can be taken to drive investment in infrastructure and improve cities’ resilience to natural disasters.

Take a look at this Swiss Re publication which examines how public-private partnerships can help finance disaster risks:

Category: Climate/natural disasters: Resilience


Urs Leimbacher - 17 Jun 2013, 1:29 p.m.

New York Mayor Bloomberg's recent proposal to invest USD 20bn over the next 10 years into making NYC more resilient against storm surges (see ties both right into your post and also into Jens Mehlhorn's post after the recent European floods.

Both NY and the European floods also demonstrate dramatically how investments in resilience could pay off pretty soon.

Incidentially, Switzerland (who after severe floods in 2005 invested money into flood-risk mitigation) has already been seeing the benefits from these investments in 2008 and most recently again in 2013 when severe damage was averted.

Daniel Martin Eckhart - 18 Jun 2013, 7:33 a.m.

So do people change? What Mayor Bloomberg does is excellent. That investment will save lives and homes and safeguard a lot of NY's infrastructure from future Sandy-like events. That investment also brings a lot of work to New York - great news for the East Coast economy. But all of this happened AFTER Sandy. Whether it's a single death or a major earthshaking incident - something always needs to go terribly wrong before someone takes measures. We see this on every scale - villagers can say for years and years that a street should be slowed down, a cross walk or a traffic light should be placed ... but it won't happen until a kid dies while crossing that road. Sandy is that kid. There's always that kid that has to die to make us do something, it seems.

So action is being taken. Good - and yet what happens now will happen to prevent the next Sandy ... what governments seem to be unwilling to see is a future Sandy is going to be a Super-Sandy. I'm reminded of a Swiss Re publication of a few years back - about increasing storm surges that will hammer Europe's northern coasts in coming years. The publication clearly showed that those rare storm events, those one in a hundred, were increasing - and that a ten meter surge will be a twenty meter surge. The forecasts are clear - and the publication showed that EVERY northern European country must invest heavily in infrastructure. The dams that are being built now will hold of the storms as we know them today. But so much more work could be generated, so much more effort should go into it - because they need to get ready for the storm surge they cannot yet imagine.

And that's just what Swiss Re does - we see and show the dangers, but we show the potential. I'm proud that we keep highlighting and urging - as loudly and clearly as we can ... let's hope that more and more governments take it seriously before a Super-Sandy strikes.

Urs Leimbacher - 24 Jun 2013, 8:22 a.m.

Canadian PM's comment on the floods in Calgary "like nothing we have seen before" ( , drive home the lesson about how important it becomes for cities to analyse their exposure to large risks.

In fact, the Rockefeller Foundation's suggestion - under its 100 Resilienct Cities Centennial Challenge - that cities should appoint "Chief Resilience Officers" is an excellent point in case (

Swiss Re has been suggesting the appointment of "Chief Risk Officers" for governments for a number of years (
While the function titles may be different, the substance of the function is identical: a highly placed government official who can promote the systematic analysis of exposure to large risks (at national, regional or city level) and who can produce risk maps and other instruments that help politicians make fact-based decisions about where best to invest scarce public resources.

If you would like to leave a comment, please, log in.