Friday, September 24, 2010

Red Cross Warns Against Urban Risks

Red cross warns against urban risks

Friday, 24 September 2010 00:00
Nigeria Guardian
From Nkechi Onyedika, Abuja

THE International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) has warned that about 2.57 billion urban dwellers living in low and middle income nations are exposed to unacceptable levels of risk fuelled by rapid urbanisation, poor local governance, population growth, poor health services and the rising tide of urban violence.

Briefing journalists on the 2010 World Disasters Report in Abuja, Regional Representative, West Coast office of the (IFRC), Thierry Coppens, said that most people in this urban population group are also particularly exposed to climate change, adding that Nigeria, Liberia and a number of African countries were on the front line of climate change and natural disaster vulnerability.

According to him, a key finding of the report shows that between one-third and one-half of the population of most cities in low and middle-income nations live in informal settlements where local authorities refuse to extend to them all the infrastructure and essential services that significantly reduce disaster risk.

He observed that good urban governance was essential to ensuring that people were empowered and engaged in the development of their urban environment and are not marginalised and left exposed to disasters, climate change, violence and ill-health.

The report urges governments and organisations to address the urban risk divide existing between cities that are well-governed and well-resourced compared to those that struggle with a lack of resources, knowledge and will to ensure a well-functioning urban environment.

IFRC Secretary General, Bekele Geleta, said that urban disasters particularly affect the one billion people who live in poor-quality homes on dangerous sites with no hazard-reducing infrastructure and no services.

He said: “For the first time in human history more people live in towns and cities than in the countryside, but the world has not kept pace with this change. This is why more people live in slums or informal settlements than ever before and this will lead to more people being affected by urban disasters like the terrible earthquake which struck Haiti earlier this year. In any given year, over 50,000 people can die as a result of earthquakes and 100 million can be affected by floods, with the worst-affected being most often vulnerable city dwellers.

“A very large deficit exists in the infrastructure and services that reduce disaster risk for much of the population in Latin America, Africa and Asia,” says Geleta. “We must bridge this urban risk divide or it will be further exposed in a very cruel way by climate change in the coming years.”

David Satterthwaite, World Disasters Report lead writer and Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), said: “People living in well governed cities are among those who benefit from the world’s best quality of life and highest life expectancies. Generally, the more urbanised a nation, the stronger its economy, the higher the average life expectancy and the literacy rate, and the stronger the democracy, especially at local level.

“The crisis of urban poverty, rapidly growing informal settlements and growing numbers of urban disasters arises from the failure of governments to adapt their institutions to urbanisation. It stems also in part from the failure of aid agencies to help them to do so – most aid agencies have inadequate or no urban policies and have long been reluctant to support urban development at a sufficient scale.”

The report finds that forcible eviction is a constant threat to the urban poor. Large-scale evictions by public authorities displace millions every year, sometimes for re-development or beautification projects, or simply to target and remove what they consider undesirable groups.

The World Disasters Report points out that zoning and planning controls often exclude a large part of the urban population from legal land markets and advocated that building standards should be applied in a way that is appropriate to the local context including affordability and resistance to extreme weather.

The location of cities will affect the types of climate hazards to which urban communities are exposed. Over half of 37 cities in Africa with more than one million residents are in the low-elevation coastal zone. A sea level rise of just 50 cm would lead to over two million people in Alexandria, Egypt, needing to abandon their homes. In the vulnerable east coast of Africa, potential costs of 10 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have been calculated to help vulnerable communities adapt to the consequences of climate change and the growing incidence of weather-related disasters.

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