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Most major cities on Earth threatened by floods and heat

Urban areas across the world lack the necessary resilience to cope with the rapidly changing climate. 

aerial photography of high-rise buildings under cloudy sky

Tokio Marine Group and Economist Impact’s Resilient Cities 2023 index, which looked at 25 of the planet’s biggest urea sprawls, has laid bare the stark challenges facing metropolitan regions and shortcomings in planning and preparation for extreme weather events. Currently, 1.8billion people, or one-in-four, live in a high flood risk zone, with developing countries hoe to 89% of those who are most exposed. 

Four fifths of the cities included in the research deemed to be at risk and many lacking in strategies and infrastructure to deal with this threat. Assets and lives are at stake when climate catastrophes hit, but the long-term health impacts are equally concerning. Stagnant bodies of water are petri-dishes for water and vector-borne diseases, while flood waters also often contain effluence that has come from sewage systems. Dhaka and Jakarta ranked particularly poorly in this context on the report. 

Extreme heat was also analysed, which is particularly pertinent after it emerged that 2023 was the hottest year on record, with the average annual temperature exceeding 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the first time on record, exceeding internationally agreed global warming limits. However, cities on the whole were found to be more prepared for this. In total, 20 of the areas studied had heat plans in place, including several already struggling with searing summers, such as Bangkok, Dubai, Cairo and New Delhi. A growing number also had heat officers to coordinate responses including cooling centres and water distribution. 

‘The world is facing unprecedented challenges. Extreme weather events, from hurricanes and wildfires to flooding and heatwaves, are becoming more frequent and their effects more devastating. Our cities are exposed to all of these risks and more. Lives and livelihoods depend on our ability to understand and mitigate the evolving threats to our urban centres,’ said Stuart Heath, Head of Delegated Property at Tokyo Marine Group. ‘With urban areas becoming increasingly vulnerable to heatwaves, it is crucial for governments, businesses, and communities to take immediate action to mitigate the risks and build resilient cities. 

‘Flooding has also emerged as a pressing issue affecting major cities across the globe,’ he continued. ‘The devastating impact of these events extends beyond immediate damage to infrastructure and property. It disrupts the lives of residents, threatens public safety, and imposes substantial economic burdens on affected regions. We believe this index will help to advance thinking on the topic of resilience while facilitating a constructive dialogue on what we can do to create a better tomorrow for all.’

More on climate change: 

The year we broke our global warming promise

Environmental charities have a big race problem

1-in-13 new build homes located in flood zones

Image: Bangkok by Andreas Brücker

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