Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Urban Vulnerability in Southeast Asia: Summary of Vulnerability Assessments in Mekong-Building Climate Resilience in Asian Cities (M-BRACE)

Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International, Thailand Environment Institute, and Vietnam National Institute for Science and Technology Policy and Strategy Studies

Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International, Bangkok


Documenting the process of applying a systems approach to participatory vulnerability assessment, this M-BRACE report provides an overview of the complex challenges Asian cities face regarding urbanization and climate change.

The report highlights work in four cities in Vietnam and Thailand (Phuket, Udon Thani, Lao Cai, Hue), which are confronted with rapid growth, and are already experiencing impacts of climate change. It shows how these cities struggle with the multi-scale, interlinked challenges of bringing together stakeholders, ecologies and physical infrastructure, institutions and policy making in order to build capacities to face those challenges and build resilience. While there are already many publications on resilience and vulnerability assessments, this report has two distinguishing features. First, it uses the concept of the climate threshold, emphasizing levels where climate change impacts are supposed to have widespread and dramatic effects (as opposed to small-scale, cumulative, long-term changes). Second, it takes the urbanization process rather than climate projections as a starting point, which strengthens the inclusive systems approach the report takes.

The Southeast Asian context is particularly interesting, as rapid urbanization processes are encouraged by the city administration and (master) plans to expand urban areas exist, even if those cities are currently not able to provide all of their residents with supporting infrastructure and basic services. However, the economic and social pressures to expand are strong, and the generation of economic benefits usually goes hand in hand with increasing built areas in already hazardous zones (e.g. river basins) while putting pressure on resource provision (e.g. groundwater). Resulting changes in hydrology (floods) and drainage (water shortages) are most strongly felt by the urban poor. M-BRACE worked closely with local stakeholders in an iterative process to detect existing and emerging vulnerabilities, define room for manoeuvre, and take specific resilience building actions.

Three core activities – two shared learning dialogues at the beginning and end and a series of studies – were conducted by actors in the city. Across all cases, it became apparent that vulnerability is strongly linked to institutional capacities to deal with changes, variability, uncertainties and disturbances. Urbanization alone poses great challenges for planners, especially considering that scenarios for urban growth are frequently underestimating it, or are based on purely formal residents, not taking informal dwellers into account. It creates new vulnerabilities, but also impacts current ones, by changing who is vulnerable, and in what way. Many resettlements are taking place into areas with higher risks, with impacts on the shape and pace of land use change. There are large gaps in information and knowledge, e.g. around possibilities to identify and trace particularly vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers or dwellers in informal settlements. However, this would be required to inform potential long-term, inclusive and comprehensive visions of city governments and local planners. Readers of this report will find themselves once again reassured that increased collaboration with local authorities across sectors is key to governing inclusive and just urbanization processes, and that resilience approaches need to focus on strengthening institutions and capacities of stakeholders rather than seeing urbanization and climate change adaptation as purely a technical, engineering or infrastructure challenge.

Available from: http://i-s-e-t.org/resources/major-program-reports/urban-vulnerability-s...

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