There is an urban building boom going on in the emerging world as the populations of these countries modernise and improve their standards. However, in the rush to develop, are they building on solid foundations or are they going to repeat the mistakes of the past (and make new ones)?
The challenge is that many of the emerging economies are copying the building techniques and designs of the developed world, constructing structures and infrastructure that are highly advanced and complex. This creates a challenge when the regulatory, building code, workforce and quality control are not in place to support such massive development. We have seen numerous examples of how this leads to disaster.
The biggest challenges will come from building projects that are just beyond the reach of the local capabilities. For instance, when modern planning and building codes are not in place, structures are put at risk from inadequate design leading to catastrophic losses from flood and wind events. Consider the massive disruption that was caused by Hurricane Sandy three years ago in New York, in a city with developed emergency response plans. In a similar situation where infrastructure and planning are not in place, flooding is likely to lead to massive disruption, property loss and loss of life.
In most instances, it is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of capability and preparation for development on the scale that many of these cities are experiencing. This inevitably leads to shortcuts and substitutions that undermine quality and put people at risk. Consider the recent spate of high-rise fires in Dubai, which have been largely attributed to the use of aluminium composite cladding panels that would not be allowed in a locale with a more developed fire code.
The advancement and development of the emerging world is a undeniably positive, creating jobs and better living standards around the world; however, the speed with which this is happening currently cannot keep pace with the development of standards and capabilities to support it. The next 20 years are likely to see amazing developments, coupled with horrible tragedies.
For further reading, take a look at this article by Global [Re]Insurer, which quotes the text above: Insuring emerging megacities – the risks and rewards.