Friday, February 15, 2013

Disaster risk is transforming African cities

Denis McClean in the news archive of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction:  Risks that have historically played out in rural areas like drought, floods and wildfires "are being transferred and transformed and expressed differently across Africa's fast growing cities and towns," said Dr. Ailsa Holloway in her keynote address to the 4th Africa Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction today.

Dr. Holloway who oversees Disaster Risk studies at South Africa's Stellenbosch University, said Africa's urban population is expected to be 60% of the total population by 2050 and some countries will reach this by 2030.  "Urban risk management in Africa is simply not up to speed. It is unrealistic to expect our national disaster management authorities to have capacity to address nationwide concerns simultaneously with those faced by large cities and towns," she said.

The urbanization of risk manifests itself in the case of drought in water scarcity when reservoirs run dry due to diminished rainfall and poor water demand management due to the pressures of urban growth, she said.  "Urban fire is devastating and a poorly understood and weakly managed risk across the continent, while new forms of rising flood occur in our growing cities due to unplanned settlement and weak urban infrastructure. Food insecurity in cities generates multiple challenges."

Dr. Holloway spoke about the "large youth dividend" in Africa which was largely untapped due to dismally low enrollment in high schools, for example in southern Africa where it is 30% or lower in some countries and the majority of youth are unemployed.

"An inescapable reality of an increasingly urban continent --especially one with so much poverty and structural inequality -- is the likelihood of social violence and conflict. While one might argue that this is not the core focus of disaster risk reduction, shortcomings in service delivery, rising food prices, unemployment and political intolerance can trigger social unrest.  Community based disaster risk reduction in tense urban contexts can play an important role in addressing other forms of tension that have potential to bring harm and loss."...

A crowd on the street in Lagos, Nigeria, shot by Zouzou Wizman, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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