Executive Summary

The frequency of climate-related natural disasters has increased globally. Between 1980 and 2017 in Asia, there were over 1.2 million recorded fatalities and a loss of USD 1.69 trillion in assets due to natural disasters. Asset losses have increased over the past decades due not only to more frequent disasters, but also to the increasing value of public and private assets located in vulnerable locations.

This assessment analyses disaster risk management (DRM) policies across levels of government to enhance urban resilience in Bandung (Indonesia), Bangkok (Thailand), Cebu (Philippines), Hai Phong (Viet Nam) and Iskandar (Malaysia). It aims to: i) identify policy challenges related to DRM; ii) assess the impacts of current DRM policy practices; and iii) propose more efficient and effective DRM policy options to enhance urban resilience.

Main findings

Preparedness: Southeast Asian cities are largely underprepared for natural disaster risks, especially as regards vulnerability and risk assessment practices. Comprehensive hazard assessment and mapping is not uniformly employed, which is particularly harmful for identifying and protecting low-income communities at risk. From the five countries analysed, the Philippines has the most advanced DRM framework for cities, instructing the preparation and implementation of disaster management plans with financial resource allocation to local governments. However, only 1 out of 13 local government units in Metro Cebu has completed such plans.

Land-use: Land-use policies do not often consider DRM, which has resulted in continued urban development in risk-prone areas. For example, in the last 20 years, urbanisation in the vicinities of the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, Thailand has led to the disappearance of natural areas of water retention and flood plain that play a key role in managing excess water and limiting flood damage, as was the case for the 2011 floods.

Urban infrastructure: Two-thirds of Asia’s infrastructure needs by 2050 still have to be built and financed, thus providing an opportunity to factor in resilience to natural disasters. The large need for infrastructure investment will require large-scale private sector engagement. To this end, public finance plays a critical role to facilitate, leverage and guide private investment. At the city level, this is a challenge when tax revenues collected by local governments are often small. For example, the municipality of Hai Phong, Viet Nam has limited prerogative to collect its own revenues, and retains only 15-20% of local taxes collected from residents and businesses, and none of the customs revenues collected from port duties.

Insurance: Adequate private and public insurance mechanisms to share disasters risks are not well developed in the case study cities. Almost three-quarters of all financial damages globally are not insured, and this insurance gap is even more pronounced in Asia. The Thai government’s National Catastrophe Insurance Fund is a good example of a reinsurance reserve, where local insurance companies that issue policies retain part of the risk underwritten and transfer the rest to the Fund, which in turn retrocedes a portion to international carriers on the global reinsurance market.

Governance: The co-ordination mechanisms between national and local governments are often lacking or not clearly defined, obstructing the implementation of national policy frameworks (when they exist) at the local level. In Indonesia, the National Agency for Disaster Management and the Disaster Management Authority make an active effort to co-ordinate with other ministries at the national and provincial levels. However, many provincial disaster management agencies have limited resources and are often waiting for national funding instead of actively allocating their limited budgets to their DRM projects.

Stakeholder engagement: While engaging local communities from the early stages of decision-making can help develop more effective and inclusive DRM strategies and frameworks, such opportunities are not always offered in the case study cities. Based on the lesson learned from the 2011 megafloods that local communities are first-responders in the event of a disaster, Bangkok started co-ordinating more with local residents by going out into the field and discussing flood issues with local leaders. Such a strategy could make the residents’ future response to disasters better organised and render their co-ordination and collaboration with government even more effective.


Based on these assessments, the study recommends the following disaster risk management actions to enhance urban resilience in Southeast Asian cities:

Conduct a comprehensive vulnerability and risk assessment to develop a local resilience action plan.

Vulnerability and risk assessments and local resilience action plans are tailored to local conditions and rely on multi-level, multi-stakeholder engagement to identify and prioritise DRM policies, plans, and investment actions. They are the first step to enhancing urban resilience and are vital to the success of a long-term DRM framework. Developing data and indicators for DRM at the metropolitan level is another key step.

Adopt risk-sensitive land-use policies combining regulatory and fiscal instruments to guide urban development away from risk-prone areas.

Given the continued pressure for urban development, effective design and implementation of land use strategies and policies is needed to guide private investment, minimise risks and avoid locking cities into vulnerable development patterns that will be costly to reverse in the long run.

Integrate disaster risk management policies and urban green growth policies, especially in the infrastructure sector, to generate “co-benefits”.

Complementarities and synergies are often found between disaster risk management and urban green growth policies, which can produce cost-effective “co-benefits”. Financing resilient urban infrastructure can be achieved through economic instruments (property taxes, fees, tariffs, and land-value capture mechanisms) that promote DRM and diversify local tax revenues.

Develop disaster risk financing mechanisms to serve as a backbone of effective disaster response planning.

Contingency funds, catastrophe bonds, and insurance schemes can drastically reduce risk exposure. Promoting a multi-layered approach that combines disaster risk financing mechanisms can provide a stronger safety net, limit financial exposure of the central government to disaster risk, and encourage multi-level governmental co-ordination.

Promote the use of information and communication technologies.

Investing in social and human capital and enhancing the availability and quality of innovative emerging information and communications technology is also a potentially useful approach. Key tools include early warning systems, emergency services, and other disaster response efforts in sectors such as transport, energy, water and solid waste.

Foster vertical and horizontal co-ordination to foster a “whole-of-government” approach.

National governments have an important role in aligning national and subnational DRM policies and creating an enabling environment that allows local governments to act more effectively and efficiently. Establishing a dedicated DRM agency will help to facilitate horizontal co-ordination among sectoral departments as well as vertical coherence across levels of government. Conducting in-depth country reviews of urban DRM policies can also be useful to provide a neutral assessment of the current state of play, consider options to fit for the future, and guide public action and decisions.

Engage with stakeholders to promote inclusiveness and encourage a culture of DRM.

Co-ordinated response mechanisms between civil society and local governments as well as public awareness campaigns targeting citizens, especially those at greatest risk, and financially vulnerable SMEs are critical to enhance urban resilience. Local authorities can encourage the private sector, notably SMEs, to design business continuity and post-disaster recovery plans to reduce economic disruption to their activities.

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