Urbanisation, extreme weather raise disaster risk in Arab region

by Chelsea Diana | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 4 April 2013 12:08 GMT
But better governance and communication could lower risks, a UN report suggests

Disaster risks are growing in the Arab world, particularly as countries urbanise, but improved governance and communication could help reduce that risk, a report from the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction says.

According to a factsheet, climate change has increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events - such as flash floods, droughts, storms, and sea level rise – in the Arab world.

The region has been affected by more than 270 natural disasters in the last 30 years, resulting in more than 150,000 deaths and affecting about 10 million people, the report said.

That growth in climate-linked extreme weather, combined with urban population increases, is prompting a growing number of Arab countries to try to develop improved disaster risk reduction strategies. The United Nations report aims to support those efforts.

More than 55 percent of the Arab world, which stretches from Oman to Morocco, lives in cities, with the rate of urbanisation expected to double in the next 40 years, the report said. In some countries, 80 percent of the population is now urban.

In some places, rapid urbanisation has led to people living in potentially dangerous conditions on unstable hills, flood-prone lowlands or buildings unsuited to surviving earthquakes, the report said.

Other problems are also increasing disaster risk, including greater urban density, weak governance, poor urban planning, lack of available land and the decline of ecosystems, the report said.

PROBLEMS OF WEAK GOVERNANCE

One of the biggest problems, it said, is lack of effective local governance.

Countries where disaster risk reduction efforts are managed at a national level may have difficulty making funds available at the local level, it said, and lack of community participation in decision making similarly can increase vulnerability.

To try to reduce the impacts of disasters and to be better equipped to face them, the heads of Arab states in 2012 came together to create the Arab Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction 2020. The group aims to facilitate cooperation, including between local and national levels, on addressing disaster risks.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) is working with urban areas in its “Making Cities Resilient” campaign to raise awareness of disaster reduction strategies. More than 300 Arab cities have joined the campaign and a handbook outlining the risks and goals has been distributed in Arabic.

Nine of the 22 Arab countries have adopted or are developing databases to better track losses from disasters, a measure UNISDR says can help countries analyse disaster trends by looking at historical data.

CHALLENGES AHEAD

But, the report said there are many challenges that still need to be addressed before disaster risk reduction efforts in the Arab world see results.

First, the roles and responsibilities of government officials dealing with disaster risk at various levels of government need to be better defined, the report said.

“Creating strong linkages between the national level and the local levels is crucial,” it said.

When laws to reduce risk disaster are in place at the national level, local officials do not always understand how to enact them, the report noted. Better communication is needed to ensure policies are well understood, it said.

Paying attention to the gender, cultural and community implications of disaster risk reduction policies can also make them work more effectively, the report said.

Chelsea Diana is an AlertNet Climate intern.

 

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