Building urban resilience

NUSDeltares held its inaugural Singapore Centre on Urban Resilience (SeCURE) Symposium on 29 September which brought together local and international academics, practitioners and policymakers to discuss key challenges and solutions regarding urban resilience in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

The event was graced by Guest-of-Honour Her Excellency Mrs Margriet Vonno, the Netherlands Ambassador to Singapore and Brunei, who highlighted shared challenges faced by Singapore and Rotterdam in the Netherlands as open, liveable cities by the water, as well as innovative solutions adopted by the Dutch, such as floating communities. “Fighting the inevitable will not lead us forward, yet adapting to a new reality and using it to our benefit will. I think that’s why we’re here, to find those new solutions,” she said.

Fighting the inevitable will not lead us forward, yet adapting to a new reality and using it to our benefit will. I think that’s why we’re here, to find those new solutions.

Drawing on his experiences as Special Envoy for International Water Affairs of the Netherlands, keynote speaker Mr Henk Ovink touched on the pressing issue of climate change, which could force 1.8 billion people to live in a water-scarce environment by 2080. “We only talk about water when there is a problem…water is at the core of a lot of our challenges but to have a way forward we have to better understand that 90 per cent of all natural disasters are water-related…too much or too little hits our communities, our economies and our societies hard,” he said. Mr Ovink is also Sherpa to the High Level Panel on Water convened by the United Nations and World Bank in 2016.


From left: Asst Prof Carracedo, Ms Kryspin-Watson, Mr Seah, Ms Nishikawa,  Prof Lam and Dr Otter discussing the role of science in urban resilience

A panel discussion, moderated by Assistant Professor Oscar Carracedo from NUS Design and Environment (SDE) explored the role of science in improving urban resilience. Panellists included Professor Lam Khee Poh, Provost’s Chair Professor at SDE; Dr Henriëtte Otter, Head of the Urban Water and Subsurface Management department at Deltares; Mr Harry Seah, Chief Engineering and Technology Officer of the Singapore Public Utilities Board; Ms Yumi Nishikawa, City Solutions Associate with 100 Resilient Cities; and Ms Jolanta Kryspin-Watson, Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist at the World Bank Group.

Prominent issues concerning Asia — what Ms Kryspin-Watson termed the “supermarket of disasters” due to its prevalence of diverse threats ranging from earthquakes to volcanic eruptions — included the challenges of resource management, as well as the need to involve all stakeholders in the decision-making process and tailor communication to those on the ground.

“Science has to be the source of hope and solution, not just a vehicle to scare people, whether they are the benefactors or the governments, it has to come from the heart. If you do not have the heart to solve these problems, it is not going to be sustainable in the long run. That’s what we need to inculcate in the educational system for our students,” remarked Prof Lam.

Other topics addressed at the symposium included adaptive governance, vulnerability assessment, the use of numerical models in decision-making and the economics of land use planning in enhancing urban resilience.

The SeCURE initiative, a partnership between NUS and Dutch applied research institute Deltares, was formerly launched in November 2016 and aims to contribute to solving urban resilience challenges for Southeast Asian cities through the use of big data and a holistic systems approach.