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close this bookIDNDR - Informs - Number 09-10, Special Edition, 1996 (IDNDR)
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Are today's and tomorrow's cities waiting for disasters to happen'? Latin America's and the Caribbean's large and medium-sized cities are increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters and those caused by human action. At present, 75% of the region's population lives in urban areas. By the year 2020, the United Nations predicts a level of urbanization of 85%.

Practically every day we hear reports of some city rocked by a disaster. This is bound to continue - indeed, to get worse - unless we change our policies and actions in all matters pertaining to the environment and development. We must ask ourselves these questions: Why is construction allowed in areas which have been identified as at high risk? What is the complex relationship between vulnerability and "natural'' hazards social composition. and the control and planning mechanisms of our societies? Are there no other options. or are decision-makers insufficiently aware of the risks? Is there a way to mitigate the risks? Who arc the actors who should safeguard public safety as far as physical planning is concerned? Who is in charge of building permits? How many of the risks are caused by human action, how many are truly "natural"? How can sustainable development be promoted which takes into account vulnerability to natural phenomena and the characteristics of the social and economic environment?

To address these issues we propose the following for the CITIES AT RISK campaign:

First of all. we suggest that the issue be put on the agenda for local authorities. That means to include the risk-factor as a criteria for urban planning and construction permits perform local emergency planning and organization.

Secondly, that the theme is included as a policy issue for regional and urban planning. This would include as well a strengthening of the institutional capacity of planning units.

Thirdly, the Yokohama Strategy and Plan of Action (the outcome of the 1994 World Conference on Natural Disaster Reduction) includes a call for stronger public information efforts - from all organizations. at all levels. How do we put this «call» into action? Public information activities need to be creative keeping in mind that resources (time, money and people) are scarce - particularly for those dealing with issues of vulnerability reduction.

We suggest the organization of roundtable discussions in your communities on these topics. getting together local politicians, technical and professional staff and emergency managers.

We will not make a lot of progress in reducing vulnerability to disasters unless we pool our scarce resources. That includes all organizations and individuals around the world interested in lessening the impact of disasters.

In this issue of "IDNDR Informs" you will find a Forum of articles about Environmental Degradation and Risks, of Local and Municipality Organization and reviews of some events that have taken place in the Region related to the theme. We hope they may be of your interest.