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Urban disaster risk governance: a systematic review

What do we want to know?

This review addresses the following questions:

  1. Who are the actors, and what are the dynamics and approaches in governing urban disaster risk in low- and middle- income countries?
  2. Who are the actors, and what are the dynamics and approaches for governing land-use planning that is sensitive (or not) to disasters in urban areas in low- and middle- income countries?
  3. What are the implications of being both a researcher and policy-maker when conducting a systematic review? How does this help shape the research and interpretation of findings? What are the risks and challenges?

Who wants to know and why?

This review was conducted as the dissertation for the MSc Research for Public Policy and Practice* course at the UCL Institute of Education, University College London. The author is a practitioner at the UK Department for International Development, working on issues of urban disaster resilience. The questions were identified to address questions that the author was grappling with in her own work at the time, and for which she also felt there would be wider relevance for the disaster resilience policy-maker and practitioner community.

The aim of the review was to identify dynamics and approaches for governing disaster risk in urban areas in low- and middle-income countries. It did this by: i) mapping the overall literature on urban disaster risk governance in low- and middle-income countries, and ii) reviewing and synthesizing the literature on the governance of risk-sensitive land-use planning in urban areas. The paper also reflected on the configurative systematic review methodology, and the opportunities and challenges of policy-makers and practitioners also acting as researchers.

What did we find?

In short, there are a range of different actors across the public, private and civil society sectors that engage both vertically and horizontally in urban disaster risk governance. The literature covers a range of different levels (e.g. city-wide, communities within cities, cities within a wider nation-states); focuses on different parts of the disaster risk governance cycle (e.g. assessment, evaluation, risk reduction, monitoring and control, and response and recovery); and explores different interventions or actions to address disaster risk.

There are a number of emerging themes on the institutional challenges to effective urban risk governance. These include overlapping bureaucracies, limited decentralisation, fragmented roles and responsibilities, and competing and unconstructive incentives. A deeper dive into risk-sensitive land-use planning literature starts to substantiate some of these wider themes, with clear characteristics of good (and bad) governance of urban risk emerging across political economy, bureaucratic and social dimensions.

These findings resonate with the author as a practitioner working on urban disaster risk governance in Nepal. The paper argues that this professional insight has supported the review to be both relevant in terms of content, but also achieve a deeper insight in to some of the issues.

How did we get these results?

A systematic search of the international literature was conducted. A total of 76 relevant studies exploring urban disaster risk governance in low- and middle-income countries were identified. These studies were coded and mapped, with general conclusions being drawn.

A further subset of 14 studies, which focused on risk-sensitive land-use planning, were identified from within the 76 studies. The 14 studies on risk-sensitive land-use planning were further appraised and explored in-depth, with findings presented using a framework synthesis approach.

This report should be cited as:

Murray N (2017) Urban Disaster Risk Governance: a systematic review. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London

* Now called 'MSc Systematic reviews for public policy and practice'

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