Urban Risk Assessments: Understanding Disaster and Climate Risk in Cities

The World Bank produced this framework for conducting climate risk assessments to help cities plan for the impacts of climate change and natural disasters. The framework is intended for city decision makers, urban practitioners, and is fitting for use by public, private, and non-governmental entities. It is adaptable to cities of differing financial statuses, population size, hazard and institutional capacities.

The document has four main chapters and presents case studies applying the Urban Risk Assessment to eight cities. Nine additional Annexes are included with the report, which describe the tools used, detail specific methodologies for certain approaches, a sample questionnaire, an assessment template and key definitions.

The report first discusses the “Need for an Urban Risk Assessment,” outlining the risk to cities posed by climate change and disasters. It looks at socioeconomic aspects of vulnerability in urban areas, and includes tables of recent disasters with large impacts on cities and another or urban climate-related hazards.

The process, uses, and challenges of the Urban Risk Assessment (URA) are then described.As explained in the report, the URA is a flexible approach that facilitates improved understanding of a city’s risks from disasters and climate change. The URA allows for customizing how it is applied depending on available financial resources, availabledata relating to hazards and population, and institutional capacity.

Through the URA’s phased approach, where each assessment level is linked to progressively more complex and detailed tasks, city managers may select the appropriate series of components from each pillar that individually and collectively enhance the understanding of risk in a given city. The approach is structured to integrate both rapid-onset hazards, such as floods or landslides, which are more typically the purview of the disaster risk management community, and slow-onset hazards, such as drought or sea-level rise typically associated with a longer-term change in climate trends.

The report concludes with lessons from efforts in Vietnam, New York City, England, Turkey, Kenya and Colombia to develop action plans and policy. This conclusion emphasizes the importance of risk assessments to inform city adaptation and risk-reduction plans, which are most effective when integrated into urban planning and management efforts. As described in the lessons learned from New York, the work of the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force can be a model for such risk assessment incorporation. Successfully using their assessment results enabled NYC to improve current structures and to inform design codes and other urban regulatory codes.


The document is a part of the World Bank’s Urban Development Series focusing on challenges of urbanization and future implications for developing nations. Other documents in the series include Cities and Climate Change: Responding to an Urgent Agenda; and Climate Change, Disaster Risk, and the Urban Poor: Cities Building Resilience for a Changing World.

Publication Date: July 11, 2012

Authors or Affiliated Users:

  • Eric Dickson
  • Judy L. Baker
  • Daniel Hoornweg
  • Asmita Tiwari

Related Organizations:

  • The World Bank
  • United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
  • United Nations Human Settlements Programme


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Assessment guide


Go To Resource