With climate-related and other shocks and stresses compounding risks to communities, how are cities mitigating, preparing and responding to multiple, overlapping hazard events? 

In New York, US, and The Hague, Netherlands, Chief Resilience Officers are preparing for summer heat waves that will challenge pre-Covid management approaches. Heat waves pose a particular risk to those already vulnerable to Covid-19 including the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions (e.g. cardiovascular, pulmonary, kidney disease), and essential workers. Covid-19 and heat can put strains on health, and on surge capacity plans for hospitals to deal with concurrent shocks and stresses. In India, Super Storm Amphan created $14 billion USD damage including in Mumbai.

A crucial early step, according to the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes – Columbia University, is recognizing that different natural hazards often co-occur, which can have a multiplier effect on the risks facing vulnerable communities. In the case of heat and Covid-19, high-risk communities can be identified by reviewing where local heat islands occur, and where this may overlap with high incidence or risk of Covid-19. When available data and time to plan for compounding risks is limited, land surface temperature can be used to understand a proxy for community and environmental vulnerability. 

In Quito, the local government has convened a climate change committee with academics and experts to inform local action on the impacts of water shortages and power losses during Covid. The city has run tabletop exercises that model water shortages and energy loss alongside the pandemic and its impacts on hospitals, cleaning infrastructure and public health. It has also undertaken scenario planning that considers the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 and a climate emergency.

In The Hague, for short term responses in anticipating the overlapping of Covid-19 and a heatwave, the city is using existing communication channels to reach vulnerable people and deploy cool streets and cooling centers. In the longer term, a city like The Hague will work together with NGOs for risk awareness and to adapt existing physical spaces such as greenifying schoolyards. In New York, the city is reviewing and expanding social safety net programs to support at-home cooling strategies for the most vulnerable; for example by expanding energy subsidies to ensure households can afford home cooling measures. 

And in Zagreb, Croatia, while the city was juggling public health, social and economic responses to the pandemic, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake disrupted newly introduced lockdown measures, causing an increase in the rate of infections in the days following the earthquake. Given the history of epidemics following natural disasters, modelling, scenario-planning, and multi-hazard exercises are just some of the pre-emptive strategies to counter the compounded risks of Covid-19 and natural hazards. 

Further resources: 

How to: Hear from The Hague on how the city is preparing for the upcoming urban heat event while still dealing with Covid-19 and from the Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes – Columbia University on practical methods on Cities on the Frontline #14 – Compounding Risks

Lesson: Manchester Briefing #5 . Chief Resilience Officers are considering the concurrent and potentially compounding risks that climate related hazards might create during Covid-19. They are most worried about financial/economic shocks along with floods and heatwaves in the next six months. 

Lesson: Manchester Brief #13 .  Zagreb juggles various response measures with higher infection rates following the earthquake. 

Lesson: Resilience Accelerator Tel Aviv-Yafo – Urban Heat and the Future of the Public Realm. The municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo partnered with the Accelerator team to advance research and project concepts that help the city adapt to climate risk from heat. 

Opinion: Let’s talk about disaster risk during Covid-19. Faced with potential natural hazards during Covid-19 in Latin America, there is a need to understand that the notion of compound risk is more present today than ever.