Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Urban Disaster

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has just published The World Disasters Report 2010 − Focus on Urban Risk. It’s excellent! Here are some excerpts (not much new to WatSan folk, but good that it’s out there for more people to read):

Chapter 5: “Urban risk to health”:

The rapid rise in the number of people living in urban centres and cities around the globe brings with it new forms of urban risk in the health sector. It is a tragic irony, but millions of people continue to be exposed daily to diseases that medical science has long known how to prevent and / or to cure. Acute respiratory infections, dysentery and diarrhoea, largely under control in cities in high-income countries, continue to exact a significant toll on the health and well-being of a disproportionate number of those who live in the sprawling slums of the developing world. …

The other end of the urban health spectrum can be found in low- and middleincome countries where most of the world’s impoverished urban dwellers live. In households lacking basic shelter services – water supply and sanitation in particular – the prevalence rate of diarrhoea among urban children soars, averaging 38 per cent in Pakistan, 33.3 per cent in Cameroon, 23.9 per cent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 32.3 per cent in Jordan. Diarrhoeal diseases account for nearly 2 million deaths out of a total of almost 10 million among children under the age of 5. …

In many cases and especially in the developing world, urbanization has taken place so quickly that governments have struggled to keep up when it comes to providing needed infrastructure. When people are crowded together in unsanitary conditions, disease thrives. A 2005 report in The Lancet estimated that nearly half the urban population in Africa, Asia and Latin America has one or more of the main communicable diseases associated with inadequate water and sanitation – including diarrhoea and worm infections.

and Chapter 7: “Urban governance and disaster risk reduction”:

The quality and capacity of local government in a city have an enormous influence on the level of risk that its population faces from disasters and, in particular, on whether risk-reducing infrastructure serves everyone including those living in low-income areas. Local or municipal governments also influence whether provision has been made to remove or reduce disaster risk from events such as floods and large-scale fires or to build into the city the capacity to withstand potential disaster events such as earthquakes. The quality and capacity of local government also have an enormous influence on the levels of risk from everyday hazards that can contribute much to mortality, injury or illness but that are not considered disasters, such as vector-borne diseases and traffic accidents. These risks are not an inherent characteristic of cities but the result of the limitations of their governments in meeting their responsibilities and, more broadly, of limitations of governance including the quality of their relations with the inhabitants and civil society organizations.

Most of what local governments do, or should be doing, is about reducing risks for their populations through ensuring services such as good provision for water, sanitation, drainage, solid waste collection, healthcare, all-weather access roads, electricity, emergency services and provision for transport and traffic management. They should also ensure health and safety standards are met. Even if provision for some of these are contracted to private enterprises or provided by higher levels of government, it is usually the responsibility of local government to coordinate or oversee their provision. Local governments that support meeting development needs reduce disaster risk.

is the number of people reported killed in disasters in the ten years 2000−2009 (Table 2 in Annex 1), whereas
is the number of people killed by diarrhoea in one year − 1.5 million under-fives and 1.1 million over-fives [see Diarrhoea: Why children are still dying and what can be done (WHO/UNICEF, 2009) and Diarrhoea kills over a million over-fives each year (SciDev, 2009)].