* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.In southeast Asia alone, 35 percent of people in cities - 190 million people - live in slums or squatter settlements, making them particularly vulnerable to disasters
Sunday, 8 December – One month since Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, a new report (released Monday 9 December) from humanitarian agency World Vision calls for stronger disaster planning for cities to avoid widespread future devastation.
According to the UN, in southeast Asia alone, 35 per cent of people in cities, roughly 190 million people, live in slums or squatter settlements, making them particularly vulnerable to disasters. World Vision’s Cities Prepare report calls on leaders to recognise and take action on the dangers facing people living on the margins in urban centres.
“The devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan can be seen as not only a horrific disaster but a warning for the future. We need to ensure future generations have safer cities that can withstand natural disasters. Strengthened resilience reduces loss of life and livelihoods,” says Minnie Portales, World Vision Philippines Public Engagement Director.
Over the last month, World Vision has reached more than 100,000 people, some who have lost everything, with life-saving essentials. Distributions in badly affected areas have provided food, clean water, blankets, emergency shelter, sleeping mats and mosquito nets to prevent malaria, as well as hygiene kits containing vital items like soap, shampoo, toothpaste and towels, to help prevent the spread of disease.
In the Philippines more than 6,000 people live per square kilometre in urban areas, putting city dwellers – particularly those in the poorest communities – at heightened risk after disasters. Early analysis shows that the Philippines’ good standards of disaster risk reduction were simply overwhelmed by the storm. Families affected by Haiyan report following early warnings and established procedures, but in many cases the shelters and evacuation centres failed to stand up to the storm.
The report warns of rapid urbanisation and the increased risk this poses as systems are put under pressure. Asia is home to half of the world’s urban population, and roughly 44 million people across the region move to urban areas each year.
The report also highlights six other Asian cities – Bangkok, Thailand; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kolkata, India; Kathmandu, Nepal; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea – to contrast the different levels of preparedness across Asia.
Cities Prepare urges governments, businesses, civil society and communities to immediately address the changing urban landscape and ensure disaster preparedness is central to planning, future legislation and research.
The report recommends governments place more emphasis on disaster risk reduction (DDR) programmes for homes, schools, businesses and in developing policies in areas such as health care and municipal planning. It also calls for more partnerships to eliminate gaps in disaster planning at the municipal level and increased involvement of children in disaster preparedness plans.
“We have heard of examples where children have encouraged their family to evacuate when a disaster alert is sounded because they had learned to protect themselves from disasters,” says Angel Theodora, World Vision’s Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Director in the Asia Pacific region. “If we can make that a more intentional process, children can contribute to strengthening the resilience of their families and their communities.”