By Katherine Mueller, IFRC
Flooding, fires, buildings constructed not to code, people flocking to cities in search of work, and congested slums. These are just some of the urban risks facing a number of growing African cities.
With half the population of the continent now living in urban areas, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) recently launched a programme to improve resiliency and reduce risk in eight African cities and, together with Red Cross colleagues from those cities and external partners, sat down to work out exactly how the programme will be implemented.
“We have traditionally focused on improving a community’s resiliency in rural areas,” said Daniel Bolaños, Disaster Management Coordinator, IFRC Africa zone. “But the trend we are now seeing is that a lot of those people are moving to cities, many of them living in informal settlements, not able to officially receive government support. This opens them to incredible risk. Our goal is to reach these people, as well as city dwellers more generally, to help them be better able to prepare for and cope with the risks they face.”
The programme currently includes the following components: conducting urban risk assessments and mapping; conducting research on urban development regulations; and the implementation of community-based disaster risk reduction measures, which could include elements of early warning systems and cash transfers to address livelihoods issues.
National Societies working in Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Kampala, Nairobi and Yaoundé will be supported by Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies from around the world (American, Austrian, Danish, Finnish, Iranian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish), IFRC, UNISDR and UN-Habitat.
“In Addis Ababa, there are major risks of flooding and fires where people are settling in uncoordinated settlements. There are also health risks due to the lack of access to water and the unhygienic conditions people are living in,” said Klaus Palkovits, Country Representative for the Austrian Red Cross in Ethiopia.
“The role of us as partners is to support our National Societies in certain technical areas, provide them with the technical expertise to implement programmes to address these risks in an urban context.”
To do that, the IFRC invited UNISDR and UN-Habitat to the table. “We are specialized in relationships with government,” said Youcef Ait-Chellouche, Deputy Regional Coordinator, UNISDR. “The Red Cross Movement is specialized in community work, getting the agenda moving at the community level. There is space here to build synergies between the two organizations.”
The Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS) was one of the first African National Societies to implement an urban disaster risk reduction (DRR) programme. Staff recognized that Kampala, as the largest city in the country, had the greatest risks. However, they chose to start pilot projects in smaller urban centres first.
“They are facing the same challenges and risks as Kampala but at a lower scale,” said Shaban Mawanda, Senior Programme Manager, URCS. “It was important for us to start with a smaller pilot project, and from that, develop a clear strategy that we could then use in Kampala.”
The next step in the urban DRR programme is to develop a common approach and terminology to be used by all participants. A framework will also be created which will serve as a guide for National Societies as they plan and roll out the programme over the coming months.