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North African Coastal Cities Face Multi-Billion Dollar Losses Without Disaster Prevention, Climate Change Moves

June 4, 2011

BONN, June 4, 2011 - The North African cities of Alexandria, Casablanca and Tunis could each face a growing bill (cumulative losses) of more than $1 billion by the year 2030 if they don’t act to strengthen strategies for natural disaster prevention and climate change adaptation.
Climate-smart urban planning, institutional reforms and targeted infrastructure investments can be part of the solution according to a new report from the World Bank.
“This is a 3 billion dollar problem in three specific cities that will be echoed across the region and elsewhere if action is not taken,” said Andrew Steer, World Bank Special Envoy for Climate Change.
“Climate change adds to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and this report’s message is clear: the costs of inaction today will be magnified many times over tomorrow,” he said.
The report, Climate Change Adaptation and Natural Disaster Preparedness in the Coastal Cities of North Africa, shows in detail just where and how these cities are vulnerable and also points to actions the cities can take to lower the risks.
“For each of the cities there is an action plan containing specific steps that lower the potential losses when natural disasters occur, and that allow the cities to counteract some of the damaging effects of climate change,” said Anthony Gad Bigio, the World Bank urban specialist who led the study.  “While some of the actions entail significant investments, others call for informed urban planning that would steer new building projects away from areas identified as vulnerable. Such actions would require better institutional coordination and preparedness,” he said.
The new Bank report focuses on Alexandria, Casablanca and Tunis, as well as Morocco’s Bouregreg Valley, an area slated for large-scale development.  The urban areas have all been hit by episodes of extreme weather in the past decade, but climate change, bringing a rise in seal level plus more frequent floods and storm surges, adds new challenges.
For the North African coastal cities, a major concern is population growth and rapid urbanization. “When you combine climate change with the shifting demographics, you see that many more lives and livelihoods will be at risk in the year 2030 than would be today,” said Bigio.
The population trends hold true throughout the Middle East and North Africa, with the inhabitants of coastal cities expected to surge to 100 million in 2030, from 60 million in 2010.
Each of the urban areas studied in the report faces a specific set of vulnerabilities, although all of them are experiencing coastal erosion and occasional floods.
Alexandria, among other risks, can expect a population of 6.8 million by 2030, with increasing numbers living in high-density communities along the coastline. Casablanca, undergoing rapid urbanization, is subject to coastal erosion and flooding. Tunis also is confronting problems of coastal erosion, and is subject to significant subsidence problems that leave a number of buildings in the city center tilting visibly.
Although the most profound impacts of climate change won’t arrive until later in this century, the southern Mediterranean and Middle East already have seen a measurable rise in natural disasters, with catastrophic floods hitting Alexandria and Casablanca in late 2010, and Tunis in 2003.
According to the report the Middle East and North Africa went from an average of three natural disasters a year in 1980 to 15 in 2006 it says.   It is also the second most vulnerable region in the world with respect to climate change effects according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The coastal cities study, launched today in the margins of the “Resilient Cities 2011” conference in Bonn, provides policymakers with tools for measuring the economic losses that could materialize in the future, alongside the benefits that could arise from adaptations designed to reduce the current vulnerabilities.
A range of international donors supported the research effort, which was carried out by a consortium of consulting companies headed by French-based Egis-BCEOM.  The study was part of the Cities and Climate Change Program of the Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration, a regional knowledge platform. The CMI held a workshop on the study May 30-31 at which representatives from all three countries committed to advancing national programs to improve urban planning, build in early warning systems and other institutional improvements, as well as invest in strengthening key infrastructures.

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