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Political leadership is number one issue in managing disaster risk – Study

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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, a new study launched by the UN two years ago has established.

The study of a major urban safety campaign, the “Making Cities Resilient Report 2012”, provides a global snapshot of how local governments reduce disaster risk and was undertaken by a team from the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), led by Senior Fellow, Dr. David Satterthwaite.

Commenting on the study, Dr. Satterthwaite stated: “The Making Cities Resilient campaign is proving that despite a rise in extreme weather events and the threats posed by climate change, urbanisation does not have to lead to an increase in risk.”

He said “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 the threats from other natural hazards minimised.”

According to him, “Cities which understand how to prevent recurring losses will thrive and the campaign is motivating over 1,000 cities and towns to get a better handle on how to reduce their risk and avoid loss of life and damages.”

The Making Cities Resilient Campaign was launched today, September 4, 2012, by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) after it was announced for the first time in human history that over 50% of the world’s population now live in cities and urban areas.

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

She stated that “The 40-plus cities profiled in this report were able to leverage whatever resources they had, including the creativity of their citizens, to reduce the impact of disaster events on their communities,” disclosing; “Six months after joining the campaign the local government of Siquirres in Costa Rica took action on flood protection and in February 2012 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,” she stressed.

Also commenting on the study, the report’s author, Dr. Cassidy Johnson, 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.”

Adding her voice to comments on the campaign, Helena Molin-Valdes, UNISDR Campaign Director, 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 an UN-affiliated global Campaign gives local authorities a sense of empowerment, which usually translates into tangible actions and policies.”

The campaign, which now 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, asks members to sign up to Ten Essentials for urban disaster risk reduction.

On the other hand, 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 the organisation and coordination to understand and reduce risk.

Also, one of the highlights of the report is that the majority of the 200 million people affected by floods, earthquakes and other natural hazards each year are urban dwellers.

Further, across all the cities analysed in the report, the five types of activities occurring most frequently are; taking disaster risk reduction into account in new urban planning regulations, plans and development activities and establishing councils/committees/disaster management structures dedicated to disaster risk reduction.

The others are; constructing hazard-resistant infrastructure or improving existing facilities; establishing education/awareness/training programmes and citizen participation/multi-stakeholder dialogues.

Another important trend noticed in the report 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.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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