The Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities website says that the upcoming World Cup and Olympics will give Rio de Janeiro – and presumably other cities across Brazil – "a unique opportunity to showcase what it means to invest in resilience."
The question is whether new football stadiums and associated transport infrastructure actually fall into the resilience category. Or does the Rockefeller editorial refer to other projects more directly related to citizens' welfare and long-term sustainability? I'm not sure.
The widespread public protests of recent weeks demonstrate that many Brazilians would rather the government spend the big bucks on housing, schools and hospitals and not on football stadiums. Personally, I believe that urban resilience would be better served by the kind of investment the protesters want rather than anything else.
All that said, cities' ability to survive and thrive in the long term is, in many cases, not primarily dependent on hospitals and housing but on how rapidly they can recover from a natural disaster. Take Brazil's southeastern coastal region, an area dominated by the huge urban conurbations of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, two of the venues for the World Cup tournament.
These cities – and indeed the whole region – are especially vulnerable to river and flash floods. Besides the direct damage to life, health and assets, flood can seriously disrupt individuals' economic livelihoods and place an intolerable strain on the public purse. The consequences of such inundations for the southeastern region could be extremely serious indeed given its population density and concentrations of industrial and transport infrastructure.
Through its National Plan for Disaster Risk Management launched in 2012, the Brazilian government has already earmarked billions of dollars to finance public works aimed at avoiding and mitigating the impact of flooding. The city of Sao Paulo, for example, has constructed huge reservoirs which control the flow of flood water into the rivers, thus reducing the risk of inundation. There are numerous other flood and landslide prevention measures under way, ranging from the construction of soil containment walls on hillsides to improvements to city drainage systems. All of these measures are costly and need to be ongoing.
In its publication, "Mind the risk – A global ranking of cities under threat from natural disasters," Swiss Re experts underline the vital role this kind of infrastructure investment has in in strengthening the resilience of metropolitan areas.
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.
Let's hope the Brazilian government's massive expenditure on staging the World Cup and Olympic Games will not mean it has less money to spend in its fight against natural disaster risk, a crucial battle it needs to win in its long-term campaign to strengthen urban resilience.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Disaster risk