How Urban Planners can Contribute to Disaster Risk Reduction

As more people and assets move to areas at high risk, vulnerability and exposure to natural disasters increases. The world’s population has increased by 87% since 1970. The number of people who live in flood-prone rivers basins has increased by 114% and those living on cyclone-exposed coasts by 22%, respectively.

Nearly half of the world’s largest cities with populations between 2 and 15 million are in high-earthquake risk areas. Poorly planned and managed urbanization and environmental degradation are the key drivers of disaster vulnerability. Sound development directly reduces disaster vulnerability. (United Nation International Strategy for Disaster Reduction,2015).

It is crucial to recognize the critical role of disaster management, resilience, and knowing the risks to minimize the effects of urban disasters. This can prevent loss of life and huge economic losses that result from the destruction of top-quality infrastructure (housings, roads, social infrastructure, etc.).

disaster risk reduction

It took many years to build. It is clear that disasters have a strong impact on development. While it is widely accepted that disasters can cause damage to, erode, and destroy development gains there is very little recognition of the impact that different approaches to development have on creating or increasing vulnerability.

Preventing, preparedness and mitigation of major disasters such as earthquakes, large storms and heavy precipitation, and other unpredictable events like cyclones, large thunderstorms, large rain events and heavy precipitation, is a way to help protect human and economic resources. The impact of hazards on people, structures, and economies is directly affected by the quality and level of planning and development.

Cities that aren’t resilient are more likely to suffer from extreme hazard events, increasing in frequency and intensity. It is crucial that disasters are not seen as a response to an unforeseen disaster, but rather as a way to reduce risk and build resilience in the planning process for a city.

How urban planning can help reduce disaster risk

It is crucial that resilience be incorporated into city development plans in today’s rapidly changing world. This will ensure that cities are resilient to the ever-changing environment and increase vulnerability. Without a strong resilience strategy, planning a city is like wasting resources and putting people and assets at risk.

Systems that increase resilience and include it enables cities to withstand shocks caused by natural and man-made disasters. Planners face many challenges in managing disaster resilience in urban areas. It is possible to reduce the devastating effects of disasters on

  • Society
  • Lives
  • Property, and
  • Economy

As disasters often strike quickly, there is no time to prepare or take immediate mitigation measures. Therefore, it is crucial that resilience be incorporated into the planning and development stages of a city’s infrastructure. Because they are prepared and strong enough to handle any disaster situation, resilient cities can withstand them.

Once a disaster is over, it can return to its normal functions. Before we can plan to build a resilient city structure, it is important to understand the basics of disasters like earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions. These natural phenomena made the earth’s environment conducive to life evolution and shaped history and civilizations.

These disasters are possible because cities are becoming more vulnerable to natural phenomena due to rapid urbanization. We have limited resources and cannot manage their impact. The basic structure of a safe and resilient city is built by focusing on disaster resilience during urban planning. You can achieve this by:


  • Assisting multiple stakeholders in the planning process to identify risks, needs, and possible solutions. This will help communities realize their potential to reduce risk.
  • All urban development plans, master plans, and development plans should incorporate a risk assessment and vulnerability study. This will consider exposure, vulnerability, and hazards.
  • Planning that is sensitive to risk, such as making sure land is available for urban development and avoiding construction in disaster-prone areas.
  • Ensure that streets, parks and infrastructure are protected and identified.
  • Modernizing informal settlements with an emphasis on access roads, infrastructure, and flood-risk safety.
  • Allocating crucial infrastructure in safe areas – Installing risk-reducing infrastructure such as access roads, drainage and solid waste management.
  • Analyzing how urban development can improve the lives of the most vulnerable or poorest people in a city.
  • Develop and communicate good information about risk.
  • Develop plans for reconstruction after a disaster that minimize future risk.
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There are many implications to the importance of urban planning for building resilience

Urban planning allows cities, towns and settlements to be analysed and planned as a system that includes various institutions and sectors. This is essential in dealing with the interdependencies between failures of lifeline infrastructure during disaster situations.

Urban planning that incorporates disaster resilience is also a way to prevent secondary disasters from happening and delay in the recovery and rehabilitation process. Multiple stakeholders are involved in urban planning, including citizens, municipalities, development authorities and NGOs. This is one possible solution to help prevent the many system failures that could occur during a disaster. It can also aid in building resilience.

Second, planning can strengthen stakeholder relationships, integration at various levels, institutional frameworks, and partnerships between all urban stakeholders. This includes

  • Planners
  • Engineers
  • Disaster management specialists
  • The private sector, and
  • Communities that address resilience and risk reduction in a holistic way

To support resilience, it is crucial to strengthen the legal planning frameworks for risks in master plans and codes. The number of cities, towns, and settlements is increasing and villages are becoming towns and cities. Future planning can be guided by a legal framework in development plans. It will also help to integrate disaster risk reduction. ( Making Cities Resilient Report 2012: My city is getting ready !, UNISDR. Second Edition, October 2012).

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Planning for disaster risk reduction is not possible if cities and their citizens aren’t fully aware of the risks they face

For informed decision-making, priority setting, planning for risk reduction and identification of high, medium, or low-risk areas based on their vulnerability and cost-effectiveness of possible interventions, risk analysis and assessments are crucial prerequisites.

The foundation for vulnerability and risk assessment is a well-maintained database on disaster losses, a Geographic Information System to map hazards, vulnerabilities and the exposure of people, assets, and capacities. Planning is the process of prioritizing actions based upon an analysis and land-use zoning, investment decisions, and worst-case scenarios.

Planning is also important to consider risk and vulnerability maps in the land-use suitability assessment in order to plan for resilient future development. Public participation in planning preparation and hazard zonation can greatly reduce the likelihood of disaster. It is important that the general public is informed about the

  • Risks
  • Vulnerabilities
  • Mitigation
  • Preparedness, and
  • How to minimize loss

This can be accomplished by mapping vulnerable areas and communities and making them available via websites. It is also possible to update the risk assessment annually. It not only raises awareness of the disaster but also informs communities about ways to reduce its impact. This helps them to learn about safe zones, mitigation methods, building materials that are resilient, and other useful information.

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I am Adegboyega Tunde Temitayo. A registered Town Planner with the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) and Town Planners Registration Council (TOPREC).

I love to think differently and possibly on various Urban and Regional Planning issues to proffer solutions to Urban and Rural Environmental Problems. You can subscribe to my YouTube Channel

As the Chief Editor of Town Planners Diary, I humbly welcome you to this platform which is about enhancing Planning Education through research on various Town Planning and Environmental issues.

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