EDD16: Science and technology for resilience and crisis response

The European Development Days conference is currently taking place in Brussels. Tomorrow, GLI student Elena Leggett will be presenting with the UNMGCY in a workshop entitled ‘Young Scientists in Sustainable Development’ where the issues of crisis, urban resilience and smart cities will be discussed. The following blog post is an overview of the content of the workshop.

by Elena Leggett

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Over the past century, major demographic, industrial, and epidemiological transitions have led to fast changing urban landscapes and a vast increase in the number of people concentrated in urban areas. This rapid transformation poses a number of challenges for resource management, environmental protection and social cohesion. The increased concentration of people in urban areas brings with it the increased concentration of crises in urban areas. It has been recognised that the current strategy of humanitarian response to crisis is inadequate for dealing with these urban crises; traditionally responses have been situated in remote rural areas, and so, The new Global Alliance for Urban Crises was launched at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, in Istanbul. It brings local authorities, humanitarian and development actors, and professional associations together to effectively prevent, prepare for and respond to humanitarian, urban crises. Rather than focussing on individual or household level needs, and looking at the wider context as an afterthought, initiatives will seek to use urban planning approaches to guide key early decisions during crisis response.

In discussions of urban crisis, ‘resilience’ is a term which is increasingly used. Resilience is a growing field in urban development that focuses on preparing for natural, economic, and social shocks to urban systems. Resilient cities are those which can respond to whatever crisis is thrust upon them, whether this be a natural disaster, a conflict or an influx of displaced people. There is much debate about the use of resilience as a term and where it sits within the sustainability paradigm. It is argued by some that unlike sustainability, resilience focuses on maintaining the status quo and thus the concept demonstrates no desire to improve the quality of life of citizens. Furthermore, it has been recognised that there is a need for a process to develop evidence based guidance and standards for health, science and technology to inform resilient cities. There are concerns that current recommendations for resilient cities do not use proper science and technology based evidence.

One of the ways in which cities are striving to become more crisis resilient is through the use of smart technologies. Smart technologies are systems whereby continuous data collection allows for real time responses to challenges which may arise. In the case of crisis, ICT-based hazard monitoring and surveillance techniques can be used for early warning and land use planning. Where sensors are established throughout the city, data can be collected and combined across different departments to detect and resolve critical issues, such as water leaks and power spikes. Some examples of applying these technologies for crisis response have been in Mumbai, where 35 automatic weather stations measuring real-time rainfall intensity and river flow gauges have been installed, and in Rio de Janeiro, where an operations centre displaying real time data integrated from 30 agencies has helped improve coordination and reaction times.

Science and technology represent both a challenge and opportunities for cities in terms of crisis mitigation and prevention. If implemented effectively they have the potential to enhance crisis response by utilising the structural advantages of the urban ecosystem, and improve quality of life of citizens by reducing the risks associated with urban crises.

 

 

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