Driving the agenda for urban planning and development

تم النشر: 15 أبريل 2014 19:55 CET

Katherine Mueller, IFRC

Over the past several years, it has been recognized that urban areas are not just places where economic opportunity is growing and thriving, but vulnerability and risk as well. This is due to a number of factors, including climate change, an increase in the level of exposure to risk, and changes in job creation, all of which leads to growing pockets of vulnerability in many urban centres.

The largest global event on issues related to urbanization, urban planning and development, and risks, the World Urban Forum, recently took place in Medellin, Colombia, attracting more than 25,000 participants, including representatives from six Red Cross National Societies in Africa. The theme for this year’s forum was ‘Urban equity in development, Cities for life’.

Africa, in particular, faces a high number of natural disasters, which are further aggravated by rapid urban growth. Although currently the least urbanized continent, it has the highest rate of urban growth in the developing world of an estimated 3.5 per cent. It is believed that in certain African cities, urban populations will make up approximately 85 per cent of the population in the coming decades.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) advocates for greater coherence and consistency between development planning and processes and disaster risk management before the disaster, and during the early recovery phase.

It is within this context that IFRC launched its Urban Disaster Risk Reduction programme in Africa in 2013, focusing on nine key cities across the continent. “Risks that exist in urban settings are different from those in rural areas,” said Daniel Bolaños, IFRC Disaster Management Coordinator for Africa. “As cities grow, stresses on the environment, infrastructure, economy and social networks will increase. As a result, vulnerability to disasters will increase as we have already witnessed through the increased frequency of flooding in Dakar, Ouagadougou, Dar es Salaam and other African capitals.”

The Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS), which attended the WUF, was one of the first African National Societies to implement an urban disaster risk reduction 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. “The smaller centres 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 project focuses on reducing the number of traffic collisions that send thousands of people to hospital each year. "Looking at the trends, definitely, more people will be settling in urban and peri-urban areas. Therefore, we must start rethinking how we target and engage urban communities," added Mawanda.

That includes using technology to collect data and share information, adapting rural tools for use in urban settings, and adopting stronger beneficiary communications and community awareness outreach to engage residents from the outset.

Leveraging the reach of its volunteers, the Red Cross Red Crescent is well placed to engage communities, as they themselves are members of the community, which in turn facilitates a higher level of ownership.

“The work we do in urban areas should focus on ensuring the participation of all stakeholders, communities and neighbourhoods,” said Walter Cotte,  IFRC Under Secretary General for Programme Services, who headed the IFRC delegation in Medellin. “People need to be at the centre of decision making, and in driving the agenda for urban planning and development.”