This paper aims to fill a conceptual gap and provide context for considering the rapidly changing characteristics of risk at the local level. It considers how the notion of the local might be reframed, and the opportunities for multi-scale interventions for disaster risk reduction. It draws from vulnerability assessments conducted in Thailand and Vietnam. It illustrates the significance of the systems and services on which urbanisation depends – water, food, energy, transport, communications – in order to consider cascading systemic impacts at multiple scales (often beyond the administrative boundaries of cities) and how vulnerabilities and risks are distributed unevenly across different groups of people.
The paper addresses the key features of urbanisation – in particular the dependence on physical infrastructure that has often been designed for earlier climate regimes and risk profiles. Much of this infrastructure, and the institutions that are responsible for its management, is unable to cope with emerging climate variability, thus creating its own sets of vulnerabilities and risks. The dependence of cities and people on such complex systems and infrastructure points to significant drivers of current poverty, and future vulnerability to disasters and climate change.