Cities across the world have been urged to put more money into emergency planning for the growing number of natural disasters.
Cities need to be better prepared for floods, earthquakes and volcanoes, and to think about ways to reduce and prevent them. And businesses and financial institutions should also take some responsibility in the world-wide disaster reducing effort.
That was the message from the International Day for Disaster Reduction which is focussing on urban areas because that’s where more people are at risk.
“Today’s urban planning demands foresight and much more attention to disaster risk,” said Margareta Wahlstrom.
“Poorly built houses, schools and hospitals on floodplains, above seismic fault lines and along fragile slopes expose millions of people to disasters that can be avoided.”
Ms Wahlstrom, a special representative on the issue for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, told a news conference yesterday that with global warming the number of natural disasters was rising. “Their cost is climbing dramatically from year to year,” she added.
More than 236,000 people were killed in the 235 natural disasters around the world that took place just between January and the end of September this year. And another 256 million people were affected by them.
This year’s disasters, Ms Wahlstrom said, cost mainly poor countries about £51 billion in losses of infrastructure and property, and less than a third of their losses were covered by insurance, according to estimates.
The risk of major emergencies is rising as cities expand, particularly around coastal and mountain areas. The United Nations forecasts that by the year 2030, 60 per cent of the world’s people will be city dwellers and many of those will live in the super-vulnerable shanty towns.
This year’s earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand highlight how forward planning, tighter building regulations and rules about what land is used for could save thousands of lives and lower the risk of services such as hospitals and schools being destroyed.
“Hospitals, clinics and other health facilities are the foundation of any health response to be launched to save the lives of people injured when their city is struck by a disaster,” said The World Health Organisation’s Eric Laroche. “But we see too often that when disasters happen, health facilities and the staff who work in them count among the casualties.”
To protect schools and hospitals, the organisation recommends that new hospitals are built in safe areas not prone to disasters and constructed in line with building standards.