UN official: Reducing risk of cities to disaster "extremely important" to achieving MDGs

UN official: Reducing risk of cities to disaster “extremely important” to achieving MDGs
from Xinhua News Agency

Mobilizing local governments to invest in making their cities resilient to disasters is “extremely important” to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, Margareta Wahlstrom, said on Monday.

Wahlstrom, who also serves as assistant secretary-general, made the remarks at a press conference here on the 2010-2011 “Making Cities Resilient” campaign, coordinated by the UN Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

Launched in May, the UNISDR campaign aims to engage city leaders and local governments in strengthening their urban critical infrastructure and emergency management systems, in order to reduce the level of vulnerability to a disaster.

At present, 58 cities have committed to the campaign’s 10 essential steps for risk reduction. These include installing early warning systems, improving risk assessment, and protecting ecosystems.

“All the cities that are now engaged in this conversation are sharing their considerable experiences and their resources, their expertise,” she said. “The global risk has to be reduced at the local level, otherwise we will have no sustained improvement in the current risk environment.”

With over 70 more cities expected to sign up for the campaign, Wahlstrom said progress in reducing risks to disaster can be achieved.

At the same time, however, “risk is increasing,” she added.

The rapid growth of informal settlements or “slums” due to high population density, poses one of the “major challenges facing cities today,” Wahlstrom noted.

According to a 2010 report by the UN agency on human settlement (UNHABITAT), over half a billion people around the world live in slums and the number is expected to increase by 25 million more each year.

The “Making Cities Resilient” campaign draws particular attention to the issue, indicating that “most of the urban poor are more exposed to hazards and disasters because they live in informal settlements on unsafe sites where basic services are often lacking.”

“Much more focus is needed in that area,” Wahlstrom said.

The campaign’s efforts carry a direct impact on the United Nation’s anti-poverty targets, known as MDGs. Progress made in reducing the risk of the world’s cities to disaster, results in progress towards achieving the development goals, said Wahstrom.

“All the MDGs in fact can be even stronger, safer if risk reduction (and) risk lenses apply to the way they are implemented, ” she said.

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