A Complexity Approach for Reducing Disaster Risks for Marginalized Urban Populations

Comparing DRR Interventions Across Four Cities

Published in: External Interventions for Disaster Risk Reduction: Impacts on Local Communities, Chapter 10, pages 171–192 (2020). doi: 10.1007/978-981-15-4948-9_10

Posted on RAND.org on September 03, 2020

by Aaron Clark-Ginsberg

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The extreme poor increasingly reside in cities, often in high-risk settlements such as slums. Unfortunately, the risk in cities is an incredibly complex product, shaped by interactions between groups of people, natural and physical infrastructures, and different institutions. This chapter conceptualizes cities and their risks as a complex adaptive system and examine the methods for risk reduction. To do so, it reviews how the international NGO Concern Worldwide reduces risks for the extreme poor living in four cities: Port au Prince, Haiti; Dhaka, Bangladesh; Nairobi, Kenya; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in these cities, this chapter finds that while many commonly used disaster management techniques can be employed for risk reduction, the complex and dynamic nature of urban systems creates unique challenges that must be accounted for. Risk reduction can be enhanced by implementing a multiplicity of interventions spanning scales and perspectives, structured along the lines of preparedness and response to crisis, direct services provision, and enhancing social inclusion. To truly to escape crises, these interventions must address not just the immediate symptoms of risk, but the underlying macro processes creating hazards and vulnerabilities. From these results, the argument is made that a complex system approach that is cognizant of interconnections among hazards, vulnerabilities, and forces of creating risks, is crucial for addressing risks in cities. By introducing this complex system perspective and providing a series of real-world examples of risk reduction in cities, this chapter should be relevant for researchers and policymakers working to understand how risks in an urban context can be managed in better ways.

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