Disaster Resilient City Development Strategies for Sri Lankan Cities

Objective: To establish sustainable disaster resilient and healthy cities and townships in disaster prone regions of Sri Lanka

Funded by: Government of Australia; Aus$ 1,100,000

Partners: University of Moratuwa (UoM), Urban Development Authority (UDA), Ministries of Local Government and  Disaster Management, Selected  4  Municipal Councils/Local Authorities,  International Agencies, NGOs, Communities and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)


  • Batticaloa
  • Ratnapura
  • Kalmunai and
  • Balangoda Municipal Council (MC) areas


Sri Lanka is urbanizing rapidly, with at least 50% of its projected 22 million population expected to be living in urban local authorities by 2020.The estimated urban growth is 3% annually and the urbanization trends shows a rapid transformation of rural areas to urban.  Whilst the Government’s Mid-Term Development Framework recognizes the positive impacts of urbanization, around 70% of this population and 80% of national economic infrastructure is concentrated in coastal cities and cities in disaster prone hilly areas. These cities are highly vulnerable to disasters and predicted climate change impacts including sea level rise, salination of water resources, storm surges, floods, landslides and malaria/dengue epidemics, all of which negatively impact human settlements, city productivity and service delivery – especially for the poor. These frequent disasters have directly contributed to constrain the country’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, specifically at local level.

The increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters over the past few years has resulted in major socio-economic impacts on townships and human settlements, especially in disaster prone provinces. Frequent flooding in the Eastern Province and landslides in the Sabaragamuwa Province have resulted in displacement, loss of livelihoods and loss of life. Despite this vulnerability, there is an increasing trend to expand built-up areas through unplanned development activities..

The Project

This project aims to establish sustainable disaster resilient and healthy cities and townships in disaster prone regions of Sri Lanka. It will be implemented in four municipal council/local authorities (MC/LAs) – Kalmunai, Batticaloa Ratnapura and Balangoda, which are vulnerable to disasters. These cities are situated in two lagging regions – Eastern and Sabaragamuwa provinces of Sri Lanka.  These four cities/townships have been selected based on vulnerability to multiple disasters, declaration as urban development areas under the UDA law which indicates potential for urban growth, and unavailability of development and land use plans.

The increase in localized disasters has necessitated a corresponding increase in disaster preparedness and response capacity at the community and local government levels. Similarly it is important that Physical Planning should not occur in isolation. This scenario presents a unique opportunity to prepare development plans and land use plans taking into account climate change impacts and the need for disaster reduction as an integral part of the planning process.

Project Approach

The project will be implemented by UN-Habitat in partnership with the UDA, Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils and the Disaster Management Centre to prepare land use plans and development plans incorporating Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) features.

The selected MC/LAs will be supported in assessing vulnerability, preparing Disaster Preparedness Plans and developing building guidelines. A Project unit will be set up in each selected MC/LA and a Steering Committee will be established to enhance coordination and provide linkages to other similar projects — especially those funded under EHRI/AusAID.

UN-Habitat and the University of Moratuwa will provide technical inputs in the areas of DR assessments and settlement planning.  Communities will be linked to local authorities and empowered though increased awareness on DRR. Community based Disaster Response Teams will be trained and will work closely with LAs to implement Disaster Preparedness Plans.

Key Outputs:

  • City-wide and community-specific vulnerability and disaster risk assessments in four cities are conducted.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction and Preparedness plans for selected four LA/ MCs  are formulated.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction and preparedness plans are aligned to city land use plans and city development plans.
  • City Disaster Preparedness Committee (CDPC) is established ensuring women’s representation in each municipal council/local authority  and make CDPC mandatory through council resolution.
  • Introduce DRR into the building guidelines based on DR risk assessments.
  • Community-based Disaster Response Teams, including women’s teams, established and linked to municipal councils and the National Disaster Management Centre.
  • Disaster Mitigation pilot projects are implemented in each MC/LA with a scope of city-wide  up scaling under the city development plans.
  • Lessons learned and good practices in selected MC/LAs are well captured, documented and disseminated in local and international forums.