Programme launched to reduce risk of disasters in growing African cities

Published: 10 July 2013 14:23 CET

By Katherine Mueller, IFRC

Over the last few years, it has been recognized that urban areas are not just places where economic opportunity is growing side by side with risk and vulnerability. 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 can lead to growing pockets of vulnerability. 

Africa, in particular, faces a high number of natural disasters, which are often aggravated by rapid urban growth. Although currently the least urbanized continent, Africa has the highest rate of urban growth in the developing world, with an estimated 3.5 per cent over the last 20 years. It is also believed that in certain African cities, urban populations will make up approximately 85 per cent of the population in the coming decades.

It is within this context that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is launching its Urban Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) programme in Africa, focusing on eight key cities. “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.”

There are also increased threats of health epidemics and inadequate sanitation in over-populated cities which could result in communities having very poor nutritional status and high levels of morbidity.

“This programme will strengthen the ability of urban communities to prepare for and respond to disasters,” said Bolaños. “We are looking to influence changes in behaviour, in terms of making sure vulnerable people who live in urban centres have a greater awareness of the risks in their communities and the options available to mitigate those risks.”

The Urban DRR programme will focus on eight cities in Africa which experience natural hazards and potentially recurring disasters such as drought, floods, fires, food insecurity and epidemics. The cities include Abidjan, Addis Ababa, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Kampala, Nairobi, and Yaounde. Red Cross National Societies in these countries will be supported by partner societies from around the world  including American, Austrian, Danish, Finnish, Iranian, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish, as well as IFRC.

At a workshop in Uganda this week, participating National Societies, IFRC and external partners are fleshing out plans for the four components of the programme and discussing anticipated goals. The Uganda Red Cross Society has already launched a pilot urban DRR project, aimed at reducing the number of traffic collisions that injure thousands of people each year.

"Looking at the trends, more people will be settling in urban and peri-urban areas. Therefore, we must start rethinking how we target and engage urban communities," said Shaban Mawanda, senior DRR programme manager at the Ugandan Red Cross.

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.