Growth, climate change, migration are main urban challenges, IFRC tells ‘Habitat III’ in Quito

Growth, climate change, migration are main urban challenges, IFRC tells ‘Habitat III’ in Quito
20 October 2016

(This story appeared first earlier today on the IFRC news site.)

States must do more to manage international support after disasters and prioritize work to improve the resilience of urban communities, including institutional and legal preparedness.

This was the message carried by the IFRC this week to the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – ‘Habitat III’ – in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito.

“Rapid urban growth poses an enormous challenge for cities that can’t set more flexible land and housing regulations or provide basic infrastructure and services for the poorest…inhabitants,” said Garry Conille, IFRC Under Secretary General, Programmes and Operations, in prepared remarks for Habitat III’s opening event.

With climate change, he added, cities were “facing an increase in extreme-weather events and flooding, heatwaves and other public-health concerns [and now] more than 360 million people live in coastal urban areas at particular risk of flooding from rising sea-levels and powerful storms.

“Cities have also become a mechanism for absorbing large population movements, rather than rural areas or refugee camps.”

Legal preparedness

Disaster impacts fell disproportionately on remote communities, on families forced to live in unsafe areas, on single mothers and on other vulnerable people.

Dr Conille said helping urban communities identify and respond to risks would continue to be a focus for the IFRC.

“States,” he said, “can and must do more to prepare themselves to effectively manage international support in the case of a major disaster. 

“Too few have dedicated laws, procedures or institutional mechanisms prepared in advance, and the result is unnecessary delays and expense as well as coordination and quality problems. 

“This lack of legal preparedness makes it very hard for them to be in the driver’s seat in a major international operation.” 

Twenty-four states, however, have now adopted new laws or rules to strengthen legal frameworks for response, risk reduction and first aid under the 2007 Red Cross and Red Crescent ‘IDRL Guidelines’, “but we would like to see much faster progress,” said Dr Conille. 

The final draft of the outcome document for Habitat III – the ‘New Urban Agenda’  – says more needs to be done to “anticipate, prevent and mitigate” disasters.

“While crises cannot always be averted,” it says, “the resilience of urban communities…can and must be addressed as a matter of priority.”

‘Informal settings’

The IFRC’s One Billion Coalition for Resilience would “encourage communities to take a greater stake in their own safety and not only rely on infrastructure, specialist forecasting agencies and experts” – according to Dr Conille’s statement – “whether it is implementing improvements to their homes, learning first aid, or participating in community early-warning systems, individuals can do a lot more than we give them credit for.

Another Red Cross Red Crescent Habitat III event – ‘Community Driven Solutions to Urban Risk Management’ – was organized by the American Red Cross and featured work by the IFRC secretariat and the National Societies of (alphabetically) France, Kenya, Tanzania, Timor Leste and Vietnam.

Other partners included EVA Studio, Habitat for Humanity, MIT Urban Risk Lab, Slum Dwellers International and UN Habitat.

Participants focused especially on disasters in “informal settings in urban areas” and compared notes on projects like GIS mapping and flood preparedness in Dar-es-Salaam; design of public spaces in informal settlements in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; the use of social media for real-time information gathering on floods in Jakarta; and fire risk in slum areas of Nairobi. 

Ecuador Red Cross volunteers with Garry Conille, the IFRC’s Under Secretary General, Programmes and Operations, at the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement stand at Habitat III in Quito. He told the conference’s opening event that rapid urban growth poses an enormous challenge for cities. (Photo: Ecuador Red Cross via Twitter.)