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23 May 2013

Geneva, 23 May (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) - Building disaster resilience into urban planning will be increasingly crucial as cities continue to burgeon worldwide, said panellists this morning. There was currently more investment in urban areas than at any other time in history, and in some parts of the world cities were becoming more expensive and displacing persons to the peripheries. The result: congestion, inequality, unrest, and urbanization without urban planning. “The crisis of urbanization is occurring because we are still following the urbanization style of the 1930s,” said Joan Clos, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN-Habitat. This did not serve the social and economic conditions of the twenty-first century, and a new approach to cities should embody preparedness for disaster risk reduction and prevention.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), which hosted the panel as part of this week’s Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, was setting up a working group to find practical solutions for disaster risk resilience and develop guidelines for actors involved in urban planning.

Speakers said that new layers of protection were needed, with stronger building codes and new building designs, including flood-proof elevators. Energy resilience was also extremely important. Regulations and technical standards were required, in addition to plans, all of which had to take account of the physical and cultural diversity of cities and their national environments.

Building in high-risk areas should be avoided wherever possible, but where such buildings existed, the safety of their inhabitants should be guaranteed without necessarily moving them to safe areas. Building codes should ensure the sustainable development of ecologically endangered areas in parallel with cities. In some countries, such as India, attention should also be paid to emerging urban areas, and not just the capitals and other large cities.

One of the frequent challenges facing urban planners was the lack of political will, panellists noted. Planning systems needed to change, and urban planners should be empowered to influence decision-making. Large-scale disasters were forcing authorities in some developing countries, where urban planning might be limited or non-existent, to take disaster risk seriously, and that was an area where the United Nations could offer guidance and technical support.

It was incumbent upon everyone to engage deeply with those issues, said David Cadman, President, ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, who moderated the session. “The future of communities will not rest on the politicians or the planners,” he said, “but on the way in which the private sector and the communities engage in the transformation of their locale, which will make them resilient into the future.”

For use of the information media; not an official record