GENEVA, 2 March 2012 - UNICEF'S flagship report, The State of the World's Children 2012: Children In An Urban World, urges governments to put children at the heart of urban planning and finds that for millions of children urban poverty is intensified by exposure to cyclones, floods, mudslides, earthquakes and other disasters.
Nearly eight million children died in 2010 before reaching the age of five, including two million from polluted indoor air caused by inadequate ventilation in sub-standard housing. City life also exposes children to high levels of outdoor air pollution and traffic accidents.
"Disasters take a particular toll on underprivileged urban residents because of where they live, and because they are inadequately served and ill-equipped to prepare for or recover from extreme events," the report stresses. Children are the most vulnerable to injury and death in disaster-prone areas.
UNISDR Chief, Margareta Wahlström, said: "This is a very welcome report. Cities can be wonderful places for children to grow up but we know that the children of the urban poor are especially vulnerable to extensive disasters such as floods and these have a negative impact on children's education, health and access to services such as water and sanitation.
"The report offers further evidence that governments worldwide should take seriously the Children's Charter for Disaster Risk Reduction with its focus on child protection and the active engagement of children in community life. The health and well-being of children in an increasingly urbanized world is a litmus test for sustainable development."
UNICEF director, Anthony Lake, stated: "Every excluded child represents a missed opportunity -- because when society fails to extend to urban children the services and protection that would enable them to develop as productive and creative individuals, it loses the social, cultural and economic contributions they could have made."
The report highlights exposure and vulnerability: "The poorest urban populations and their children make their homes wherever they can find land or afford rent within reach of work: often in congested slums or informal settlements on flood plains or steep slopes, under bridges or on sites close to industrial waste. Children are at high risk in such locations, as they seldom have access to information or protective infrastructure, that can help people withstand extreme events. Homes are often built from flimsy materials that cannot stand up to high winds, mudslides, rushing water or earthquakes."
Every year the world's urban population increases by about 60 million and by 2050, 70% of people will live in cities and towns and "children born into existing urban populations account for around 60 per cent of urban growth".
On the positive side, the report cites the emergence of initiatives for reducing disaster risk such as the Hyogo Framework for Action, endorsed by 168 governments in 2005, and the "experience from Southeast Asia and the Caribbean shows that efforts to reduce local risks have succeeded by tapping the knowledge and perspectives of community members and disaster survivors -- children in particular."