By Rosemarie Francisco
MANILA (Reuters) - Asian cities are increasingly at risk from rising sea levels and severe droughts and governments need to develop integrated urban plans that address urgent issues on water supply, flooding, transportation, and solid waste, a climate change expert said.
In the short term, cities can minimize the risk of destructive floods, such as in Bangkok, by improving drainage and sanitation systems and imposing a solid waste management scheme that promotes efficient garbage collection and reduces the use of plastics, WooChong Um of the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) told Reuters on Tuesday.
"It's very clear. There is clear evidence that the storms and typhoons are getting more intense and more frequent," said Um, deputy director general of the ADB's regional and sustainable development department.
"And it is happening not just in one place but everywhere, Ondoy, Thailand, and who knows where the next one will be," he said, referring to Typhoon Ketsana, which inundated around four-fifths of Manila in 2009, killed nearly 750 people, and damaged $1 billion worth of infrastructure and private properties.
"So it is kind of a wake up call for all the countries to do the necessary actions so that they are prepared," Um said.
Asia and the Pacific had seen more than 30 million people displaced by environmental disasters in 2010, according to data from the ADB. The region is home to more than 4 billion people.
The region also accounted for 34 percent of recorded disasters, 90 percent of people affected, 32 percent of deaths and 33 percent of economic losses worldwide from natural disasters from 2005 to 2010.
Private sector demands for governments to address disaster risks would have the most impact on speeding up climate-related infrastructure development, Um said.
"The Bangkok one (flooding) really demonstrated the disruption in the value chain," he said. "If the private sector makes it very clear, what are constraints that's causing investors from coming in ... If it is said by the industries themselves, then there is a bigger impact."
Climate-related infrastructure projects could have a better success rate if undertaken via a public-private partnership, David McCauley, ADB's lead climate change specialist, told Reuters in Singapore.
"There's an incentive to work more closely with the private sector to address these risks, in terms of infrastructure."
"Those sorts of decisions are best made more on a public-private basis, and I don't think there has been adequate incentive or direction for that in the past," McCauley added.
Flooding in Thailand since late July claimed 562 lives and swamped about 900 factories in industrial areas north of Bangkok, disrupting supply chains of international firms such as Toyota Motor Corp, Sony Corp and Lenovo Group Ltd.
"Bangkok has a land subsidence problem from over extraction of ground-water, Jakarta has it even worse. It's literally sinking at the same time as the over-land flooding is increasing and the sea is rising," McCauley said.
Um said the ADB is working with the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia in preparing country risk assessments that would identify climate and disaster threats, rehabilitation costs, and financing options such as catastrophe bonds.
Asian nations need to forecast their population growth and identify the infrastructure required so as not to choke their megacities and minimize climate risks. By 2020, more than half of the world's 25 megacities will be located in Asia, most of them situated near the coasts, Um added.
Governments must also prioritize the development of rural areas and second-tier cities to lessen migration into urban centers and lower the risk of disasters such flooding, he said.
(Additional reporting by David Fogarty in Singapore; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)