Chapter 6: Reducing Natural Disaster Risk in Cities

State of the World 2007 - Our Urban Future
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-Zoë Chafe

Large natural disasters, such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis, garner media attention, inspire action, and remain emblazoned in our memories. But the suffering caused by chronic small-scale urban disasters— such as local flooding, water contamination, and landslides— often escapes the limelight. While cities are increasingly home to both types of disaster, they also serve as great places for tackling the underlying issues that leave people vulnerable to these threats .

Although natural disasters are often presented as rare and unexpected tragedies, the reality is that they now occur more frequently, affect more people, and cause higher economic damages than ever before. Urban disaster risk reduction goes hand-in-hand with the aims of poverty reduction, and it can easily be linked to international efforts to achieve a better standard of living for the growing number of urban dwellers struggling to make ends meet.

Already w e are seeing hints of the ways that climate change will affect cities by amplifying natural hazards, including sea- level rise. Of the 33 cities projected to have at least 8 million residents each by 2015, some 21 are coastal cities that will have to contend with the impacts of rising seas , however severe they may be.

Effective urban disaster risk management hinges on advocacy for risk awareness, good governance, proper technical and communication infrastructure, and the empowerment of all those who are at risk.

Zoë Chafe is a Staff Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute.