Building regulation for resilience: managing risks for safer cities

Risk Buildings Building codes

This report is about mobilizing building code regulations for risk reduction.  In the past 20 years, natural disasters have affected 4.4 billion people, claimed 1.3 million lives, and caused $2 trillion in economic losses.

Exceptional disaster events, along with chronic events such as individual building collapse and fires, disproportionately impact the poor and the marginalized. In the last 30 years, over 80 percent of the total life years lost in disasters came from low- and middle-income countries, typically setting back national economies by 5 to 120 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). There is evidence that disasters’ impact on GDP is 20 times higher in developing countries than in industrial nations. These impacts pose a major threat to the World Bank Group’s goals of eradicating poverty and boosting shared prosperity. As the scale, frequency, and severity of natural hazards continue to rise, so will future expected losses in the built environment. The annual losses resulting from disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, and flooding are expected to increase from roughly $300 billion to $415 billion by 2030.

The international community has made significant progress in strengthening disaster preparedness, response, and early warning systems. However, it has been less successful in effectively mitigating underlying risks in the pre-disaster context, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Nor has it been successful in addressing chronic risk—indeed, governments rarely even record events such as building collapse and fires, let alone cover the loss. Building code implementation has a crucial role to play in disaster risk reduction (DRR), one that until recently has not received adequate attention. This report focuses on how building regulation can be enhanced to save lives and reduce destruction from both disasters and chronic risks. Notably, it supports a shift in focus from managing disasters to reducing underlying risks. Successful mechanisms of risk reduction and hazard adaptation in developed countries have relied in large part on effective and efficient building regulatory systems, which have been incrementally improved over time. In the past 10 years, high-income countries with more advanced building code systems experienced 47 percent of disasters globally, yet accounted for only 7 percent of disaster fatalities.

A comparison between the 2003 earthquakes in Paso Robles, California, and Bam, Iran, further illustrates this pattern. The earthquakes had similar magnitudes and struck within three days of each other. However, the death toll was two in Paso Robles as opposed to more than 40,000— nearly half the city’s population—in Bam.

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