By Denis McClean
Geneva - Over the last five years economic losses due to disasters reached over $800 billion worldwide and a new report, published this week, found that 81% of surveyed cities experienced an increase in natural hazards over the same period.
Overall, 79% of surveyed cities reported changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level or natural hazards that they attribute to climate change.
Nearly half of the 468 cities who participated in the survey reported a range of impacts, and damage to local government property was the most frequently cited impact.
Cities in Africa (10), Asia (24) and Latin America (20) reported deaths from disasters that they view as being associated with climate change.
The lack of financial support and understanding of the urban adaptation challenge outlined in the new survey is a key reason why initiatives such as UNISDR's two year old "Making Cities Resilient" campaign are crucial in raising awareness, promoting peer-to-peer learning and generating political support and understanding for local governments. Only 7% of respondents believe that their national governments fully understand the realities of adaptation planning at local level.
The cities surveyed were all members of UNISDR's partner ICLEI -- Local Governments for Sustainability -- and the majority of survey respondents (298) were in the US which has a large ICLEI membership.
"Progress and Challenges in Urban Climate Adaptation Planning: Results of a Global Survey" is said to be the first systematic study at this scale of adaptation initiatives and challenges and was carried out by JoAnn Carmin, Associate Professor of Environmental Policy and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with research assistants, Nikhil Nadkarni and Christopher Rhie. It was presented this week at the 2012 Resilient Cities Congress in Bonn by Prof. Carmin.
Among the 19% of cities who had assessed climate impacts, increased storm water runoff (65%) and storm water management (61%) are the top two concerns.
In addition to a rise in natural hazards, other notable changes remarked on by survey respondents were changes in flora and fauna, rural-to-urban migration, coastal erosion, emergence of new diseases and deaths from disasters.
Many cities are taking measures to mainstream adaptation into disaster risk reduction and land use planning but globally they report three top challenges: securing funding for adaptation; communicating the need for adaptation to elected officials and local departments; and gaining commitment and generating appreciation from national government for the realities of local adaptation challenges.
The report concludes: "While financial and informational resources will still be needed, when political support and commitment exist to promote adaptation, cities will find it easier to foster engagement among local government departments and to mainstream adaptation into their ongoing initiatives."