The Red Cross Warns Next Urban Disaster Could Be Worse Than Haiti Quake

Oct 13, 2010, 09:20 ET from American Red Cross

More than 2.5 billion people at risk in urban areas

WASHINGTON, Oct. 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- To mark the International Day for Disaster Reduction today the American Red Cross is releasing the 2010 World Disasters Report with a warning that the next urban disaster could be even worse than the January earthquake in Haiti which killed an estimated 230,000 people.



Today, more than 2.5 billion urban residents, the world's total population in 1950, who are living in low- and middle-income nations, are vulnerable to unacceptable levels of risk. This is fueled by rapid urbanization, poor local governance, population growth, poor health services and, in many instances, a rising tide of urban violence.  

"For the first time in history more people are living in towns and cities than in rural areas, and in just 20 years, over 60 percent of the world's population will be living in urban centers," said David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross.

"This will lead to more people being affected by urban disasters like the devastating earthquake that struck near Haiti's capital earlier this year."

One of the report's key findings is that between one-third and one half of the population of most cities in low- and middle-income countries, or a billion people, live in slums or informal settlements in poor-quality homes on dangerous sites, with little or no access to the infrastructure and essential services which help to reduce disaster risks.

The report also urges governments and NGOs to address the urban risk divide which exists between cities that are well-governed and well-resourced, compared to those that struggle with a lack of resources, knowledge and the will to ensure a well-functioning urban environment.

In any given year, over 50,000 people can die as a result of earthquakes and 100 million can be affected by floods, and the worst-affected are most often vulnerable city dwellers.

Given the already large gap that exists in infrastructure and services in Latin America, Africa and Asia, the urban risk divide is likely to grow wider as climate change exacerbates natural disasters in some of the world's most vulnerable locations. For example, over half of 37 cities in Africa with more than 1 million residents are in the low-elevation coastal zone. A sea level rise of just 20 inches would lead to over 2 million people in Alexandria, Egypt, needing to abandon their homes.

Fortunately, there are some examples of how good urban governance can support communities in improving slums and reducing the impact of future natural disasters.  In Thailand, for instance, the Community Organizations Development Institute has channeled government funds for upgrading slums to over 2 million households over the last 18 years, an impressive achievement by any standards.

A recurring theme in this year's World Disasters Report is that good urban governance is essential to ensuring people are empowered and engaged in the development of their urban environment and not marginalized and left to fend for themselves.

According to David Satterthwaite, World Disasters Report lead writer and Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), "The crisis of urban poverty, rapidly growing informal settlements and growing numbers of urban disasters arises from the failure of governments to adapt their institutions to urbanization."  

SOURCE American Red Cross