Essential Four: Infrastructure Protection, Upgrading and Resilience

"Invest in and maintain critical infrastructure that reduces risk, such as flood drainage, adjusted where needed to cope with climate change."


Not all hazards are destined to cause disasters. Preemptive measures can help avoid the disruption, incapacitation or destruction of networks, grids and infrastructure, which can cause severe social, health and economic consequences. Collapsed buildings are the greatest cause of mortality during earthquakes. Poorly planned roads or insufficient drains cause many landslides. Lifelines such as roads, bridges and airports, electric and communications systems, hospital and emergency services and energy and water supplies are essential for a city to function during a response to disaster.


Strengthen protective infrastructure

  • Adopt city policies, management strategies and plans for geological, climate-related and technological hazards and extremes that combine structural and non-structural measures to strengthen protective infrastructure.
  • Assess the risks to each system, review their operation, effectiveness and functions and develop programs to redesign or strengthen those that are malfunctioning (these measures will also improve service delivery in general).
  • Recognize physical environemntal changes that could potentially alter flood patterns and take into account future impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise, storm surge, and increased rainfall; establish early warning and monitoring systems that alert crisis management agencies to risks that approach coping threshholds.
  • Ensure that roads and sites are designed to be accessible in case of emergencies, including fire or earthquakes. Ensure that all public buildings follow seismic codes adapted to the area; promote compliance with these codes by all developers and builders.

Protect critical infrastructure

  • Assess the vulnerability of existing infrastructure to natural hazards, undertake measures to prevent damage and develop long-term capital investments to retrofit and/or replace the most critical emergency lifelines.
  • Plan for business continuity to ensure that lifelines and services are quickly restored.
  • Develop special programs to protect historic buildings and the city’s cultural heritage.

Develop resilient new infrastructure

  • Establish minimum criteria and standards of resilience and safety, as part of urban design (see Essential 6).
  • Invest, design and construct new sustainable infrastructure in appropriate locations and to a higher standard of hazard and climate resilience so they withstand destructive events and function effectively during an emergency.
  • Conduct an assessment to prioritize maintenance improvements and repair programmes and, if required, the retrofitting, capacity redesign, demolition or replacement of damaged or obsolete structures.
  • Take preventive measures in buildings that are damaged, not being used, in a state of disrepair or obsolete. Discourage occupation of these buildings to avoid jeopardizing human safety.
  • If possible, consider demolishing at-risk infrastructure if the building has no cultural or historic value or cannot be repaired.

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  • Pune (India)

  • Investing in Measures to Reduce Risk
    Pune, India, has been affected by severe periodic flooding for decades. Anticipating that the impact of climate change may increase the frequency, the city has put programmes in place to build capacity, assess hazards and vulnerability, and implement a city-wide action plan, which contains structural and planning measures for restoring natural drainage, widening streams, extending bridges and applying natural soil infiltration methodologies. Watershed conservation techniques, such as afforestation and building small earthen check dams, were undertaken in the hill zone. Property tax incentives were provided to encourage households to recycle wastewater or to store run-off rainwater for domestic use. These efforts were complemented by improvements in flood monitoring and warning systems and social protection for affected families. The initiative was driven jointly by the elected municipal government, the municipal commissioner and Alert (active citizen groups), and involves many different city departments.
    Consult Briefing Note 02: Adaptation to climate change by reducing disaster risks: Country practices and lessons (UNISDR 2010) at

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  • Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)

  • Kuala Lumpur: Dual-use Drain and Car Tunnel
    Locating infrastructure out of harm’s way is one way to ensure that new infrastructure does not introduce new risk. Where that may not be possible, another way is to execute multipurpose infrastructure projects, such as Kuala Lumpur’s Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART). Floods from heavy rains are a hazard, and the 9.7 km. long, $514 million tunnel has three levels, the lowest for drainage and the upper two for road traffic. The drain allows large volumes of flood water to be diverted from the city’s financial district to a storage reservoir, holding pond, and bypass tunnel. Combining the drain with the road has two advantages: it ensures that this ‘critical infrastructure’ is subject to higher than usual margins of safety (the extra strength that engineers build into designs). In 2010, local government officials commented that “the RM 2 billion provided by the government to construct the SMART Tunnel in Kuala Lumpur is a significant investment. But in the three years since its launch in 2007, the SMART operations have successfully averted at least seven flash floods and have saved hundreds of millions of RM in potential losses. Together with the revenue from toll fees, we are very close to recovering the investment cost,” said Datuk Hj Salleh Bin Yusup, Director General of City Hall. A local newspaper reported in 2010 that since SMART operations began in 2007, it was used 114 times to divert excess water and prevented seven potentially disastrous flash floods, which far exceeded the original target of diverting floodwaters only two or three times a year.
    In addition to the SMART Tunnel, another RM 140 million was spent on maintaining flood retention ponds and main drains; RM 40 million is provided for maintenance and cleansing of rivers and main drains; and 300 million has been allocated for river cleansing and beautification. “These substantial investments, both from Federal Government and City Hall, are the results of efforts to mainstream disaster risk reduction in all policies, development and land use plans such as the Kuala Lumpur Structure Plan 2020, the Kuala Lumpur City Plan and the Flood Mitigation Plan,” said the Lord Mayor.
    For more information about the smart tunnel, consult pages 6-7 of the publication: Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention (World Bank- United Nations, GFDRR, 2010) pages 6-7.

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  • Critical areas for flood risk and landslide prevention include: urban drainage and sewerage systems; disposal and control of solid waste; ‘green management’ of the city with increased flood retention ponds; open permeable spaces and trees; slope stabilization and erosion control; dikes and embankments and coastal protection. Recognize that flood defenses increase risks for those outside the protected area and that residents’ over-reliance on defenses can lead to a false sense of security.

  • Critical infrastructure includes transport (roads, bridges, airports, railway stations and bus terminals), vital facilities (including hospitals and schools that may also double as refugee shelters), the power grid, telecommunications, security and emergency services, and water supply and sanitation, all key assets for a well-functioning and healthy city and critical for effective disaster response and quick recovery.