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Report offers tips on disaster readiness

By By Dann Okoth | September 9th 2012

By Dann Okoth

Our response to disaster has often been described as below par.

Most of the time when disaster strikes, authorities are caught unaware leading to loss of lives and damage to property.

The slow response to tragedies has been blamed on lack of leadership and poor resource mobilisation.

But Nairobi and other urban centres can now borrow from findings of a study that provides a raft of interventions, including importance of political leadership in the event of a disaster.

The new study of major urban safety campaign launched by UN two years ago has found that political leadership is more important than a city’s wealth when it comes to protecting the lives and economic assets of cities and towns from disasters.

The ‘Making Cities Resilient Report 2012’ provides a global snapshot of how local governments can reduce disaster risk. A team from London-based International Institute undertook it for Environment and Development led by Senior Fellow David Satterthwaite.

Dr Satterthwaite said: “The Making Cities Resilient campaign is proving that despite rise in extreme weather events and threats posed by climate change, urbanisation does not have to lead to increase in risks. Where city and local governments demonstrate leadership and competence in working with low-income populations living in informal settlements, flood impacts can be reduced and threats from other natural hazards minimised.”

First time in history

He notes that cities, which understand how to prevent recurring losses, will thrive. The campaign is motivating over 1,000 cities and towns to learn how to reduce risks and avoid loss of lives and damages when disaster strikes.

UN office launched the campaign for Disaster Risk Reduction after it was announced that for the first time in history; over 50 per cent of the world’s population now live in cities and urban areas. Majority of the 200 million people affected by floods, earthquakes and other natural hazards each year are urban dwellers.

The campaign has 1,050 members ranging from major metropolises such as San Francisco, Copenhagen, Cape Town and Mumbai to small towns in countries such as Austria and Pakistan.

The campaign asks members to sign up to ten essentials for urban disaster risk reduction. The new study includes interviews with mayors and city managers from around the world and finds that for the majority, the most important “essential” is putting in place organisation and coordination to understand and reduce risk.

Flood protection

UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström while launching the report at the World Urban Forum in Naples recently said: “Economic losses to disasters have averaged at least $100 billion annually over the last 20 years. Most of this damage can be avoided through better risk management and investment in social and structural infrastructure.

“The 40-plus cities profiled in the report were able to leverage whatever resources they had including creativity of their citizens to reduce the impact of disaster events on their communities. Six months after joining the campaign, the local government of Siquirres in Costa Rica took action on flood protection and in February, the usual annual flooding was avoided. There are many cities like Siquirres, which are proving that if you manage your risks, you build your resilience to disasters and avoid unnecessary disruption in the home and the workplace.”

Author of the report Cassidy Johnson of University College, London, said: “The straightforward simplicity of the campaign’s Ten Essentials is a key strength of the campaign. These guidelines provide local leaders with a strategic framework to prioritise areas and approaches to disaster risk reduction and to chart progress.”

Risk considerations

UNISDR Campaign Director Helena Molin-Valdes said: “The campaign provides a critical forum for local authorities to raise awareness, learn about disaster risk reduction, share ideas and identify solutions. The association with a UN-affiliated global campaign gives local authorities a sense of empowerment which usually translates into tangible actions and policies.”

Another important trend is the extent to which cities are integrating disaster risk reduction into other local government activities, including education, livelihoods, health, environment, and planning, either by incorporating risk considerations into existing activities or initiating projects that address multiple issues simultaneously.

Across all the cities analysed in the report, five types of activities occurring most frequently. These include taking disaster risk reduction into account in new urban planning regulations and establishment of councils and disaster management structures.

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Editorial Cartoon : 09.09.2012
Editorial Cartoon : 09.09.2012
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