Kolkata is one of world’s 10 cities most at risk from natural disasters

Study spanning 616 cities around the globe says most of the world’s cities facing maximum risk from floods and quakes are in East Asia

By Sayantan Bera
Published: Thursday 27 March 2014

natural disastersKolkata, the densely populated eastern metropolis of India, has been ranked seventh in a global assessment of natural disaster risk. The report, Mind the Risk: A global ranking of cities under threat from natural disasters, assessed 616 cities around the world for five perils—earthquake, storm, storm surge, tsunami and river flood.

Swiss Re, a wholesale provider of reinsurance services globally, used its proprietary hazard data to assess risk exposure faced by 1.7 billion people, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, living in 616 urban areas. The report found that 17.9 million people in Kolkata face all five types of natural disaster risk. Tokyo in Japan tops the list with 57.1 million people potentially at risk.

“Some of the world’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas are situated along China’s coastlines, such as the Pearl River Delta and Shanghai. Besides being exposed to frequent tropical cyclones and storm surges, many cities in the region are also located in zones of high seismic activity, including Tokyo, Taipei and Manila. When looking at their exposure to natural disasters, most of the world’s riskiest cities are, therefore, situated in East Asia, notably China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan. There are different ways of looking at risk exposure. No doubt, human life comes first. In that respect, Tokyo-Yokohoma, the Pearl River delta and Osaka-Kobe are the riskiest metropolitan areas in the world,” the report noted.

Of the 616 metropolitan areas included in the study, river flooding was found to be a threat to over 379 million residents, higher than the 283 million potentially affected by earthquakes and the 157 million people at risk from strong winds. In contrast, about 33 million people are at risk from coastal storm surge and 12 million people from tsunamis. “This is because only about 220 million or 13 per cent of the metropolitan areas’ residents actually live in coastal plains.”

India and China, the report said, face significant threats from river flooding. “With 12 million residents potentially affected, the Pearl River Delta is the most flood-exposed urban area in the world. Shanghai (11.7 million) and Kolkata  (10.5 million) follow in second and third place. We do not find a single European metropolitan area among the twenty most potentially affected urban populations.”

The other Indian cities that figured in the report are Mumbai with 4.3 million at risk from storms and 2.6 million at risk from storm surges. In Chennai four million are potentially affected by storms and 0.2 million by tsunami, while in the capital city of Delhi 8.9 million were found to be at risk from river flooding. 

“The potential damage that a large natural disaster can cause to roads, bridges, telecommunications and other essential infrastructure is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the world’s big cities. This is why strengthening urban  resilience is also a prime concern for the insurance industry. As an ultimate risk taker, the insurance industry has a vested interest in new infrastructure investments, upgrades to ageing infrastructure and adaptation measures,” the report noted in its conclusion.

Click here to read the report (PDF)


Mind the risk: A global ranking of cities under threat from natural disasters

Planning for climate change: a strategic, values-based approach for urban planners
Urban climate resilience: a review of the methodologies adopted under the ACCCRN initiative in Indian cities
Urban development with climate co-benefits: aligning climate, environmental and other development goals in cities
Executive summary of climate resilient urban development: vulnerability profiles of 20 Indian cities

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