During the last decade much research and many initiatives have been undertaken to make progress in areas such as risk assessment (Murray, 2017, Simmons et al., 2017), disaster preparedness (Ghosh et al., 2018, Subramaniam and Villeneuve, 2019), capacity building (Few et al., 2017, Coppola, 2018), early warning systems (Guru and Santha, 2015, Marchezini et al., 2018), disaster response (Feng and Xiang-Yang, 2018, Smith et al., 2018), training and resilience frameworks (Kwok et al., 2018, Tiernan et al., 2019).  Research reported in O’Brien et al. (2012) suggests that progress in disaster risk reduction (DRR) has been limited by the failure to acknowledge and address the development processes as the root causes of disasters. Previous research has concentrated on reducing existing risks, rather than on how risks are generated and accumulated in the first place through development projects (Thomalla et al., 2018) that are taking place as a part of the reconstruction phase after a disaster or in response to the demand of urban sprawl. Furthermore, the impact of climate change is posing serious challenges to sustainable urban development, with societies experiencing frequent extreme events such as floods, heatwaves and storms (IPCC, 2014). It is evident that the economic and non-economic impacts of disasters are on the increase, and the poorest nations are struggling to maintain their development trajectory (Ramalingam, 2013, UNISDR, 2015).  

In Thomalla et al. (2018), the researchers argue that one of the explanations for increasing risks and impacts is that the development and disaster risk reduction decision-making processes occur in silos, conducted by different agencies, institutions and other actors with differing priorities, perspectives and time horizons. Furthermore, work on resilience has attracted criticism for its failure to address social vulnerability and to engage with issues of equity and power (Matin et al., 2018). Hence the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG goals) (such as SDG 10, 11, 17 which call for “reduced inequalities”, “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities” and “partnerships for goals”) and the Sendai Priority 4 that calls for build-back better in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction, are hard to achieve due to a lack of research knowledge, current practices and policies. Therefore, there is an urgent need to transform current development practices that increase or create risks, as well as unfairly distributing risks to vulnerable communities, to a new form of development practice that is equitable and resilient. As proposed in Thomalla et al. (2018), such a transformation can be achieved through (i) exposing development-disaster risk trade-offs in development policy and decision-making; (ii) prioritizing equity and social justice in approaches to securing resilience, and (iii) enabling transformation through adaptive governance (governance that promotes cross-organisational collaboration, openness, adaptability, learning, impartiality, power sharing and public participation).

The TRANSCEND project aims to address the above challenges by conducting research to investigate processes, governance structures, policies and technology that can enable a transition towards a more risk-sensitive and transformative urban development approach.

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