Urban disasters highlight need for resilience in Africa

Rescuers work at the scene of the rubbish dump landslide in Addis Ababa (Photo: AP/Mulugeta Ayene)
 
By Evelyne Karanja

NAIROBI, 10 May 2017 – Rising disasters in Africa’s cities and their links with poverty and rapid, unplanned urbanisation are ever more apparent from tragedies such as the recent rubbish dump landslide in Addis Ababa, which killed at least 113 people.

Tackling urban risk will be a key issue when governments and a broad range of other stakeholders, including businesses and tech experts, meet in two weeks’ time in Mexico for the 2017 Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The 50-year-old Reppi dump in the Ethiopian capital is believed to have housed hundreds of people who spent their days scavenging for food and items for resale. Though the dump has posed a risk for the past ten years, government plans to relocate those living atop it had not materialised before disaster struck on 13 March.

It is estimated that in 1900, about 90 percent of Africa's population in Sub-Saharan Africa survived thanks to primary sectors such as farming, hunting and gathering, nomadism, and fishing. Africa is now the fastest urbanising continent and it is projected that at least half of its population will live in urban areas by 2030.

Disasters continue to erode developmental gains from economic growth in Africa, especially in urban settings. An estimated 90 percent of the continent’s urban population is highly vulnerable to disaster-related mortality. Exposure to disaster is exacerbated by poverty, lack of early warning systems, poor risk governance and an absence of civil protection mechanisms.

In September 2016, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake hit northwest Tanzania, killing 20 people and injuring 269. The earthquake, which was felt in parts of neighbouring East African nations, also destroyed or damaged thousands of houses. Poor households in the region of Kagera faced acute food insecurity due to the impacts of the earthquake, and there were ripple effects through employment losses and a fall in remittances sent home by people working away from their home communities.

East Africa's Great Rift Valley, a 5,000-kilometre-long geologic feature that runs north-south from Lebanon to Mozambique, follows a fault line and is prone to earthquakes. The region, facing rapid urbanisation, also houses some of the fastest growing cities in the world and some of the largest informal settlements in Africa.

In May 2016, 51 people were killed when a building in Huruma, a predominantly low-income area within Kenya’s capital city Nairobi, collapsed. The incident happened during some of the heaviest downpours of the rainy season which started in March. An audit of all the country's buildings to see if they are up to code was ordered in 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta after eight buildings collapsed, killing at least 15 people. The audit report from the National Construction Authority found that 58 percent of buildings in the capital were unfit for habitation.

UNISDR has stepped in to address African urbanisation and the challenges faced in planning for this growth which in turn is straining the ability to provide basic services and adequate infrastructure.  The “Making Cities Resilient and Sustainable” project, funded by the European Commission, will be implemented by UNISDR in 20 cities globally, five of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa. The project, which will be carried out at the local level, will support cities in the development and implementation of city risk-informed development plans to sustain urban resilience. The project is also being co-implemented by UN-Habitat who will focus on building local capacities in crisis-prone cities and supporting humanitarian partners.

The project is the first initiative under the ‘Plan of Action for Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 in Africa’, recently endorsed by the African Union Summit. Dire Dawa in Ethiopia, Uganda’s capital Kampala, Kisumu in Kenya, Praia in Cape Verde, and Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, pledged to scale up efforts to make their cities resilient and sustainable at a workshop held in Addis Ababa in February, to kick off the African arm of the project. Implementation of the Sendai Framework at the local level has faced challenges such as limited access to dedicated financial resources for disaster risk reduction and lack of systems to collect, store and manage disaster data.

At the workshop attended by representatives of the five African cities, donors, and civil society, the need for a paradigm shift from managing urbanisation to better management of rural areas was emphasised. The need for provision of infrastructure and social services in rural areas to curb rural-urban migration was also highlighted.

Linkages were also made to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the 11th of which seeks to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The initiative also aligns with the New Urban Agenda, adopted by the international community last year, which sets a global standard for sustainable urban development.

The Sendai Framework, approved at a global conference in 2015, identifies unplanned and rapid urbanisation as an underlying disaster risk driver and calls for the establishment of mechanisms and incentives to ensure high levels of compliance in urban planning and development at the national and local level. The framework also calls for the mainstreaming of disaster risk assessments into land use policy development and implementation, and incorporation of disaster risk reduction measures into urban development.

Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific Regional Platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction take place from Africa to the Pacific.
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