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Posted on 26 October, 2018 by

Categories: Events,

Building resilience means making room for failure – APAN 2018

Belinda HewittGuest blogger, Belinda Hewitt is a Senior Consultant with Arup International Development who is currently based in Manila supporting the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF). She attended the 6th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation (APAN) forum in Manila and writes for us about her experience.

Last week I joined around one thousand others to share lessons and experiences on ‘enabling resilience for all’ at the 6th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation forum in Manila. As APAN kicked off, only a few hundred kilometres away the northern Philippines provinces had begun a long journey towards recovery following the severe impacts of last month’s Super Typhoon Mangkhut.

Since the beginning of 2018 alone Asia Pacific has experienced seven Super Typhoons, a series of major earthquakes and a devastating tsunami. Last month’s IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C is a sobering warning of the impacts yet to come, particularly for those of us who live in the world’s most disaster prone region.

The critical role which infrastructure can play in supporting, protecting, or undermining human life and wellbeing is obvious in Manila’s dense, sprawling cityscape. The growing infrastructure deficit certainly makes my commute a nightmare, but the real impacts are felt by the city’s most poor and vulnerable. Lack of infrastructure and basic services is a chronic stress which affects health, restricts livelihoods, and undermines efforts to rise out of poverty. At worst the built environment can itself pose a severe hazard. The collapse of a hydroelectric dam construction project in Laos in July this year, likely due to human error, caused widespread disruption, loss of life and left over 6,000 people displaced.

Many important lessons were shared at APAN this year. One message that resounds strongly in the wake of Mangkhut and other extreme events is how some form of failure can be inevitable under extreme conditions, and we must step up our efforts to anticipate, plan and design with failure in mind.

Dr Juliet Mian, Technical Director of the Resilience Shift, has been leading research on the impact of digital transformation on infrastructure systems. During a plenary on Climate Smart Cities Juliet highlighted how smart systems can inform and build resilience, but tend to be complex and tightly coupled – and therefore “have the potential to cause fragility and vulnerability”.

This can lead to cascading impacts, where one small failure has unpredictable and far-reaching (sometimes global) consequences. Infrastructure owners, designers and operators must make conscious efforts to ‘balance resilience with the benefits of digital systems.’ For example, by providing low technology back-up systems and working across sector silos to identify, prevent, and plan for potential failure.

Mark Fletcher, Arup’s Global Water Leader, gave a keynote address for APAN’s Industry and Built Environment stream, co-hosted by Arup and the Asian Development Bank. He emphasised “how important it is to look at a basin-wide approach to water resilience sharing the work Arup is doing with the Rockefeller Foundation on development of the City Water Resilience Framework and with the Resilience Shift on the Water Governance tool with pilot global cities including Cape Town, Miami, Amman, Mexico, Thessaloniki, Hull, Rotterdam, and Manchester.”

He also highlighted “the need for developing organisational coping strategies, critical resources and supply chain arrangements to reduce loss of life and minimise damage for when infrastructure robustness has fallen short either through design exceedance or failure.”

As a built environment practitioner, I share the drive to ensure our critical infrastructure systems are planned, designed and constructed to withstand the most severe impacts. Knowledge and technology to achieve this is improving over time, but struggling to keep pace with the growing impacts and uncertainty of climate change, urban growth, and digital transformation. A report I co-authored with Lloyd’s of London last year highlights how  we must step up our efforts to find practical solutions which accommodate potential failure. This includes designing systems which fail ‘safe’ with minimal damage and loss of life, while ensuring plans and resources in place expedite recovery.

These messages are not new, but often overlooked. They are particularly important in the world’s most fragile lower-income countries, where finance and resources for ‘future-proofing’ are most scarce.

In northern Luzon, early reports suggest lessons from the deadly impacts of Typhoon Fengshen (2008) and Super Typhoon Haiyan (2013) may have informed better preparedness, evacuation and recovery efforts which reduced damage and loss of life. Though it often comes at too high a cost, failure provides us an important opportunity to transform the way we plan, design, and manage infrastructure systems to ensure a more resilient future for all.

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