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Building Urban Resilience: ICLEI Africa's Insights from the new World Risk Poll

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A number of organisations are already putting the World Risk Poll’s resilience data into action to improve safety around the world. One of those organisations is ICLEI Africa; their Director of Climate Change, Energy and Resilience, Dr Meggan Spires, discusses how they aim to utilise the latest data. 

Resilience in a Changing World

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Resilience is multifaceted

ICLEI, as the largest and oldest city network dedicated to tackling sustainability challenges with cities, towns and regions from across the world, is dedicated to enhancing climate change resilience in cities utilising the best available data, evidence and science. This is why ICLEI Africa is proud to partner with Lloyd’s Register Foundation to utilise the World Risk Poll Resilience Index to understand how city residents perceive and experience risk and resilience. This index underscores that resilience is multifaceted, being influenced by individual, societal and structural factors, including agency, community cohesion, personal perspectives and infrastructure capacity. Such a comprehensive approach enables a nuanced understanding of resilience disparities among different population groups. For example, ICLEI Africa has used the tool to analyse gender aspects of resilience related to employment and access to income in cities, which has then influenced the co-design of more gender-inclusive city strategies.

The results presented in the 2024 resilience report of the World Risk Poll reveal a stark reality: all four of Africa’s regions scored below 50 (out of 100) on the Resilience Index, positioning them as the least resilient globally. Alarmingly, 43% of respondents worldwide believe they would be powerless to protect themselves and their families if a disaster struck nearby, up from 36% in 2021. For African regions, this is even higher – from 52% in Southern Africa to 65% in Northern Africa.

This growing sense of vulnerability is acutely felt in rapidly urbanising cities like Lusaka, in Zambia). Through the DRR4Africa project, ICLEI Africa is working with the municipality of Lusaka to co-develop a Risk and Vulnerability Assessment, integrating data from diverse sources, including the World Risk Poll Resilience Index. Lusaka is currently grappling with the dual impacts of a severe drought and a cholera outbreak. These challenges reflect the findings of the World Risk Poll, where low resilience manifests through the compounding effects of multiple hazards, such as flooding and then droughts.

“The people of Lusaka have continually experienced floods in various parts of the city. While the problem is widespread, the most affected people remain to be those in informal settlements such as George and Kanyama where climate change challenges interact with poor infrastructure, poor quality housing and poorly managed solid waste.”

Chilando Chitangala, Mayor of Lusaka,29 March 2022

Additionally, the new World Risk Poll results highlight an important trend: just under half of those who experienced disasters received warnings from their local government/the police (47%) or via the internet/social media (46%). However, since 2021, there has been an increase in warnings received from online/social media sources, suggesting an opportunity to enhance disaster response via the responsible use of social media.

The continued publication of the World Risk Poll Resilience Index, with the first two editions published in 2022 and 2024, is crucial for tracking longer-term trends, analysing lessons learnt, and guiding more effective and adaptive strategies.

ICLEI Africa remains committed to applying the insights from the World Risk Poll to support its network cities. Understanding the multifaceted nature of resilience and integrating public perceptions into resilience planning is crucial to developing more robust, inclusive urban resilience strategies, highlighting the areas where support is most needed, and determining applicable methods that can effectively reach and protect vulnerable populations.

The DRR4Africa project exemplifies ICLEI Africa's approach to building urban resilience, emphasising community involvement and evidence-based decision making.

DRR4Africa is funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation and implemented by ICLEI Africa in Lusaka (Zambia), Cape Coast (Ghana) and Port-Louis (Mauritius).