`Billions of urban dwellers face disaster risk`

Between one-third and one-half of the population of most cities in low-and middle-income nations including India live in informal settlements which pose an existential threat to billions of city dwellers in these countries.

Updated: Sep 21, 2010, 21:56 PM IST

Geneva: Between one-third and one-half
of the population of most cities in low-and middle-income
nations including India live in informal settlements which
pose an existential threat to billions of city dwellers in
these countries, the International Red Cross has warned.

Rapid urbanisation coupled with growing lawlessness,
rising population, and worsening health services pose an
existential threat to 2.27 billion city dwellers in low and
middle-income countries, the organisation said.
In its `World Disasters Report 2010`, the Red Cross
has said that "between on-third and one-half of the population
of most cities in low-and middle-income nations [India
included] live in informal settlements."

The people living in slums are denied infrastructure
and essential services by the local authorities. Most of the
urban disaster will have the worst impact on people living in
informal settlements, the report said.

In India, about 64,478 people died and over 6.6 were
lakh people affected due to urban disasters during 2000-2009.
Besides, leading Indian cities are subjected to rising urban
violence, worsening urban health systems, and climate-change
related problems.

Cataloguing the urban disasters that took place during
the last ten year, which include the Gujarat earthquake in
2001 that killed over 20,000 people and affected 6.3 lakh
people with total damage running into USD 2.6 billion, it
argues that there is a bias in assisting victims in poor
countries as compared to those affected by disasters in rich
nations.
"Of all large disasters, seismic events have killed
the greatest number of people in recent years, averaging
50,184 people per year from 2000 to 2008--- flood events have
affected the largest numbers of people averaging 99 million
people," according to the report.

India which is facing the pressures of rapid
urbanisation is yet to provide essential services and
amenities, particularly to those living in slums. Invariably,
earthquakes and health-related disasters will have the worst
impact on slum dwellers.

"For the first time in human history more people live
in towns and cities than in the countryside, but the world has
not kept pace with this change," says Bekele Geleta, the Red
Cross Secretary General.

"This is why more people live in slums or informal
settlements than ever before and this will lead to more people
being affected by urban disasters," he argues.

Given the worst problems being faced by 1 billion in
poor-quality homes on dangerous sites with no hazard-reducing
infrastructure and no services, Red Cross says 50,000 people
can easily die if there is moderate earthquake and 100 million
can be affected by floods.

More disturbingly, "a very large deficit exists in the
infrastructure and services that reduce disaster risk for much
of the population in Latin America, Africa, and Asia," says
Geleta, adding that "we must bridge this urban risk divide or
it will be further exposed in a very cruel way by climate
change in the coming years."

So far, the response from governments in the Third
World is far from satisfaction.

"The crisis of urban poverty, rapidly growing informal
settlements and growing numbers of urban disasters arises from
the failure of governments to adapt their institutions to
urbanisation," says David Statterthwaite, the lead writer of
the report.

PTI