Necessity for comprehensive urban risk reductionby M Mizanur Rahman
Over the last few decades, the growth of urban population changed dramatically worldwide. In 2003, the world’s urban population was estimated at three billion and it was expected to rise to five billion by 2030 (UNISDR). Till the 1990s, at least 80 per cent population growth occurred in the urban areas. These trends of population increasing are taking place in developing countries mostly. The 17 of the 20 largest cities in the world are developing countries and mostly exposed to earthquake, landslide, flooding and fire hazards. Statistics says that the average number of victims in a disaster is 150 times higher in a developing world mega city than in a developed country mega city. The urban risks consist of road accidents, industrial, chemical and transport accidents including others, while cities are becoming more vulnerable to disaster risks with the acceleration of the degree of disasters.
Due to rapid urbanisation, increasing trend of migration from rural to urban, trends of growing population, poor living standards, building construction without consideration of safety measures, lack of public awareness to hazards/risks, poor enforcment or nonexistence of building code, environmental degradation, resource depletion and lack of comprehensive disaster management plan are making cities more vulnerable to disasters. Besides, urban inhabitants live in increased risk of industrial and technological hazards, health-related risks, disruption to draining channels, inadequate management and provisions of services, informal settlements on low quality lands.
The Asia Pacific has experiences 90 per cent of all the world’s earthquakes. In 1976, China had the most deadly earthquake ever known, which killed 800,000 people. More than 50 cities of the Asian region with high density population are at significant risk for earthquake. The recent major earthquakes that occurred in the Asian region are Iran in 2003, Indonesia in 2004, 2005, 2006, Pakistan in 2005, China 1976 and 2011.
The major Asian cities are also vulnerable to flooding. The recent major floods have shown significant threat to the major cities including in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, etc. In August 2007, prolonged floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh caused significant economic losses. On the other hand, there were 95 major storms in South-East Asia and the Pacific regions between 1980 and 2000. Since 1970, cyclones have killed an estimated 1.5 million people in Bangladesh. The October 1999 storm surge in Orissa, India, affected 15 million people, killed 9,500 people, destroyed three million homes, and left seven million people homeless. Some of other recent major events were in Karachi, Pakistan in 2007, Vietnam and Philippines in 2006.
Till 2000, 37 per cent of Asia’s population lived in cities while it will rise to 60 per cent by 2025. Estimates say more than 50 cities in Asia with a population greater than 1,000,000 are at significant risk from an earthquake. Rural to urban migration accounts for 64 per cent of city growth in Asia. On the other hand, out of 10 largest Asian cities seven are prone to multi hazard risks and are awaiting a catastrophic event.
For making the cities safer and urban disaster risks reduction, there are no other opportunities but to promote reduction measures, building capacity of local government for ensuring effective services in emergency situation, decentralisation of resources and empowerment of the decision making bodies. Strengthening and building capacity of community and social groups, creating institutional framework for action, ensuring the implementation of building codes and urban planning guidelines and decentralized Disaster Risk Reduction planning should be followed in all the areas.
On the other hand appropriate laws and standards for land use, building and planning, encouraging multi-stakeholder’s participation in disaster management planning, especially marginalized and vulnerable persons, continued mobilization of domestic and international resources for DRR activities, distribution of information on disaster resistant construction methods for public works and facilitating voluntary move of people to less disaster prone areas will ensure access for all.
Mass awareness on risk reduction measures and capacity building of relevant stakeholders can help mitigation of urban risks and contribute to effective risk reduction. Training on disaster resistant construction for builders, upgrading resistance of current infrastructure, risk mapping and vulnerability assessments, community focused vulnerability reduction programs; improve information dissemination on potential hazards, strengthening early warning dissemination systems will also help to mitigate urban disaster risk reduction.
There is an urgent need to make risk mitigation one of the essential components of urban governance and creating policy, legal and institutional arrangements to ensure safer urban communities. The city level risk maps, using GPS and RS techniques, transforming the community knowledge into formal products, can be integrated in other maps to see the changing risk scenario, ensure access to information by public, urban community based approach to convert the victimised communities into a resource.
Participatory approach for scenario building, risk assessment and action planning can also generate much needed awareness, ensuring safer housing and shelter, capable of withstanding hazard events, require quality assurance of housing construction and infrastructure as an essential part of urban risk reduction, making the private sector partner in development means it should also shoulder some responsibility in urban DRR.
Considering all the characteristic of urban area including complexity and multi-disciplinary, the Disaster risk Reduction strategy for urbanization needs to be proactive and holistic, as it has been emphasised by the Hyogo Framework for Action.
M Mizanur Rahman is a development researcher and a programme officer in Islamic Relief Worldwide. He can be reached: firstname.lastname@example.org
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