PublicationsSystematic reviewsUrbanisation and Natural Disaster: A Systematic Review
Urbanisation and Natural Disaster: A Systematic Review

What do we want to know?

The objective of this systematic review is to identify:  

  1. The impact of urbanisation on risk of, and vulnerability to, natural disasters.
  2. The effective approaches for reducing exposure of urban population to disaster risks.

Who wants to know and why?

Increasingly more and more natural disasters are reported from the urban areas of low and middle income countries (LMICs). Unplanned urban growth in LMICs has been blamed on increasing the vulnerability of the urban population to the risk of natural disasters. Gaps exist in evidence on the interface between urbanisation and natural disasters and also about the effectiveness of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) approaches. This systematic review was commissioned by the South Asia Research Hub (SARH) of DFID for generating a robust assessment of the available evidence for decision-makers; such as policymakers, donor partners and other practitioners of this region or other similar settings.

What did we find?

Significant gaps in evidence linking the dynamics of urbanisation with natural disasters were found. This review describes critical and essential features of the disaster risk management approaches in urban areas to help the decision makers for determining the characteristics and types of programmes/ approaches that should be taken. The impact of disasters in urban areas was assessed in terms of economic loss, physical damage or health hazards, collective (process and result of rapid and unplanned urban growth) and social vulnerabilities (vulnerable populations who are at combined risks of both urbanisation and disaster).

Different approaches have been taken in urban areas of different LMICs to reduce vulnerability and risk influenced by disaster. Under immediate plans information needs are substantial and must be addressed prior to, during and after disasters. Approaches for immediate response and recovery, monitoring and responding to cumulative disasters are also needed. In addition to this long term planning and future intervention should be taken. Urban development regulation e.g. space allocation, building codes, underlying vulnerability of location and population, coordination among stakeholders at different levels, active engagement with civil society and local government, mass level education/ training and drill, proactive leadership and addressing access and inequities are needed. Mentioned areas did not work alone rather were found to interact with one another.

This analysis indicates that urban populations are vulnerable to a dual process of urbanisation and natural disaster, one reinforcing the other. This systematic review offers encouraging evidences for different DRR approaches tested in LMICs. Available evidence indicates that actions should change from the classical concept of “response and recovery” to more focused to “risk reduction and vulnerability management” approaches.  

How did we get these results?

A two stage review was undertaken. Stage 1 mapped the range of literature and stage 2 sought to examine the interrelation of urbanisation with natural disasters with a focus on the effective DRR approaches. Seventeen databases and websites were searched using a variety of search terms including key words, relevant text word, index terms and entry terms. In mapping stage, this review examined 363 studies after primary screening based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. In total 32 studies from South and East Asian LMICs were synthesised in second stage through framework analysis.

This report should be cited as: Hossain S, Spurway K, Zwi A.B., Huq N.L., Mamun R, Islam R, Nowrin I, Ether S, Bonnitcha J, Dahal N and Adams A.M. (2017) What is the impact of urbanisation on risk of, and vulnerability to, natural disasters? What are the effective approaches for reducing exposure of urban population to disaster risks? London: EPPI Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.


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