Mr. Sanjaya Bhatia (left), Head of UNISDR ONEA-GETI, receives the signing certificate of Ulaanbaatar, Darkhan and Erdenet cities from Mr. Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia, in the presence of Ms. Beate Trankmann, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Mongolia.
By Ana Cristina Thorlund
ULAANBAATAR, 14 October 2016 – Curbing deaths from disasters requires local authorities and other community partners to raise their capacity to manage risks and thereby ensure safe and sustainable development for their citizens. In Mongolia, the government has committed not only to national action but also to fostering cities’ capacity.
“As about 80 percent of the total population lives in urban areas, city and local governments need to pay attention to reducing urban disaster risks, providing safety and security, building disaster resilience capacity and decreasing community vulnerability,” said Mr. Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, Deputy Prime Minister of Mongolia, at a ceremony this week that saw the country’s three largest cities join a global campaign for resilience.
The capital Ulaanbaatar, plus Darkhan and Erdenet, are the first Mongolian members of UNISDR’s flagship Making Cities Resilient campaign – which since its launch in 2010 has grown into a global network of more than 3,300 local governments.
“As urban development is progressing rapidly, it is important to focus on integration of disaster risk resilience into urban planning, and I am confident that the Making Cities Resilient campaign will help major Mongolian cities learn from the best international practice along with sharing our experience in Mongolia,” said Mr. S. Batbold, Mayor of Ulaanbaatar.
Mongolia is no stranger to disasters, with floods, storms, wildfires and drought representing its leading natural hazards. It has also been marked by “dzud”, a phenomenon in which harsh winters kills off livestock, leading many herders to migrate to cities.
Ulaanbaatar is also the first of 20 cities in various regions of the world that are being supported by a UNISDR and European Commission programme to develop and establish disaster risk reduction strategies. Among the others involved in the Asia-Pacific region will be Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, Dhaka North City Cooperation in Bangladesh, Cilacap Regency in Indonesia, Mawlamyine in Myanmar, and Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands.
“Cities and local governments are the lifelines of today’s society. They serve as a nation’s economic engine, being centres of technology and innovation and they are living evidence of our cultural heritage,” said Mr. Sanjaya Bhatia, Head of UNISDR’s Office for Northeast Asia and Global Education and Training Institute.
“However, cities can also become generators of new risks: failed infrastructure and services, environmental urban degradation, along with increasing unplanned development can increase the underlying risk drivers. This makes many urban citizens more vulnerable to hazards,” he added.
With a population of more than 1.3 million, Ulaanbaatar is home to nearly half of Mongolia’s 2.8 million people. Darkhan has more than 180,000 residents and Erdenet, over 83,000.
Deputy Prime Minister Khurelsukh encouraged the mayors of the three cities to integrate disaster risk reduction into local development policy and urban planning and implement it. He called on them to coordinate inter-sectoral actions, increase public-private partnership, strengthen community participation, as well as investment in disaster risk reduction.
That message was echoed by Ms. Beate Trankmann, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative in Mongolia.
“We need to plan for cities that are livable, safe, healthy, sustainable, and promote human development for all who live in them. We need to reduce air pollution by improving energy efficiency, finding alternative renewable sources of energy generation and by reducing emission from vehicles and public transport. And we must invest in disaster preparedness and risk reduction,” she said.
The Making Cities Resilient sign-up ceremony took place as Mongolia marked International Day for Disaster Reduction, which takes place every 13 October. This year’s global theme was “Live to Tell” – a substantial reduction in disaster mortality being the first target of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year agreement adopted by the international community in 2015.
To celebrate the day, the authorities drew dozens staff from the local governments of nine remote provinces, as well as the National Emergency Management Agency, to an event in Dalanzadgad, 570 kilometres south of Ulaanbaatar, on the edge of the Gobi Desert. They reviewed ways to measure city resilience and shared lessons for implementing the Sendai Framework, including those related to building codes.
Mongolia has already achieved tangible results by enhancing its legal environment and disaster management system, mobilizing local communities in disaster prevention and risk reduction, and equipping people with safe livelihood skills and strengthening the professional capacity of rescuers. It has also set up an early warning system in highly populated areas.
According to Mongolia’s 2015 national progress report on disaster risk reduction, key challenges include a lack of roads in local areas, and aligning a range of disaster risk reduction policy and programmes.