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[BANGKOK] Every day, around 120,000 people are moving to cities in the Asia-Pacific region where more than two billion people already live or over half of the world’s urban population, highlighting the risks and vulnerabilities Asian cities are facing in building resilience.

According to speakers and panellists at the inaugural Resilient Cities Asia-Pacific congress held last 11-13 February in Bangkok, cities are in the frontline of building resilience.

“Yet, in many cities across the region, there is a limited capacity to identify vulnerabilities and ways to adapt, along with a limited ability to actually make the changes,” said Gino Van Begin, secretary-general of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.

Disasters that strike cities are caused by the cumulative impact of urbanisation, climate change and globalisation. Every year, flooding, storm surges, earthquakes, landslides and typhoons affect many areas of the Asia-Pacific.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Anisur Rahman, senior project manager of the Resilient Cities and Urban Risk Management Department of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, says “In most developing countries, what is happening is that cities are growing without a proper guidance and master plan, and as a result, many cities are prone to the risks of different hazards and disasters.”

Understanding risk is hard because of the complexity of defining needed scientific models, Rahman explains.

For instance, to understand floods, rainfall data and topology of the area need to be considered. To assess the risk of earthquakes, fault lines must be studied along with the geology of the area, building measurements and usage information, and number of inhabitants. In the case of landslide risks, which can be caused both by rainfalls and earthquakes, all these data sets have to be studied together.

“Having data is a problem in developing countries,” Rahman adds. “And when you don't have proper data, it is very difficult to assess risks properly.”

Still, Rahman believes the results of risk assessments must be considered both at policy and community levels to implement proper procedures and raise awareness.

“Scientific data should be translated in a way that communities can understand so that lives can be saved,” he points out.

At the closing of the congress which brought together more than 300 city leaders, local government networks, NGOs, urban planners and researchers, a Bangkok Call to Action was launched.

“There is a need to do things differently, to be prepared, to innovate, to constantly learn and adapt, and to enact the full spectrum of resilience actions, including disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery, for current and projected risks,” stated the mayors and municipal leaders in the document.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.