Essential Six: Building Regulations and Land Use Planning

"Apply and enforce realistic, risk-compliant building regulations and land use planning principles. Identify safe land for low‐income citizens and develop upgrading of informal settlements, wherever feasible."


Countries and cities will have safer infrastructure when standards are in place through building codes and regulations. The application of construction codes and mechanisms for planning and monitoring the use of city land are valuable ways to reduce disaster vulnerability and risk from extreme events such as earthquakes, floods , fires, the release of hazardous materials and other phenomena. It is the responsibility of local authorities to monitor their application, compliance and follow up. Using resilient design standards and land use planning is cost effective when compared to relocation and/or retrofitting unsafe buildings (a cost/benefit ratio of 4 to 1).


Enforcement of and compliance with risk-sensitive building codes and regulations

  • Ensure that municipal regulations and laws include building codes that set standards for location, design and construction to minimise disaster risk – and ensure enforcement by investing in building capacity of local officials and also in increasing public awareness and using motivational means to increase compliance.
  • Ensure adequate clarity about differences in building regulations for critical public infrastructure, engineered buildings and more simple and accessible guidelines for smaller non-engineered homes.

Develop city and land use planning based on risk assessments

  • Incorporate disaster risk reduction and climate change impacts into the urban land use plan and regulations, based on the city risk assessment. Land use planning must incorporate peripheral land around urban developments and the wider rural environment.
  • Use plans to prevent/control development in extreme-risk areas and to mitigate risk in existing developments; prescribe restrictions on building type, use, occupancy and density in high-risk areas. New regulations leave existing buildings vulnerable, so assess their risks, and implement plans for retrofitting or alternative means to reduce risks.Spread out the location of critical infrastructure, evacuation shelters, emergency services and lifelines. Identify escape routes and routes for delivery of relief supplies. Maintain an updated inventory of land use classification and vulnerability and an urban spatial and building database to monitor development in hazard-prone areas of the city.

Upgrade informal settlements and promote safe construction of non-engineered buildings

  • Establish a participatory mechanism to reduce risk in vulnerable settlements; take into account the population’s needs and difficulties of rapidly changing existing building practices. When possible, relocate informal settlements to safer locations, while improving the quality of life, addressing livelihood needs and patterns, and seeking innovative ways to finance improved services on new sites.
  • Promote resilient design, safer construction and strengthening of non-engineered buildings, using low-cost techniques and locally available materials.
  • Share know-how through public campaigns and demonstrations of safer construction techniques.

Build local capacities and strengthen participation in urban planning and land use

  • Build the technical capacity and competence of local enforcement officials, builders, tradesmen and practicing professionals to promote compliance with regulations, plans and building codes and to promote/develop innovative local buildings, plans, and technologies.
  • Build local citizen awareness to monitor and report unsafe building practices and constructions to improve compliance.
  • Create special technical task forces to conduct independent periodic inspections.

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  • Thailand

  • Thailand Looks to Upgrade Informal Settlements
    The government of Thailand has launched an ambitious slum and squatter upgrading initiative. The Baan Mankong (secure housing) programme channels funds in the form of infrastructure subsidies and housing loans directly to community organisations of low-income inhabitants in informal settlements. The funding comes almost entirely from domestic resources – a combination of national government, local government and community contributions. Within this national programme, illegal settlements can obtain legal land tenure through a variety of means such as direct purchase from the landowner (supported by a government loan), negotiating a community lease, agreeing to move to another location provided by the government or agreeing with the landowner to move to part of the site they are occupying in return for tenure of that site (land sharing).
    For more information:

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  • Santa Tecla (El Salvador)

  • Santa Tecla, El Salvador: A Risk-Sensitive City Development Plan
    Santa Tecla is part of the metropolitan area of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador. “Santa Tecla, suffered two earthquakes in 2001. In just five seconds, a mudslide caused more than 700 deaths, displaced 20% of the city, and badly damaged 38% of the infrastructure. Real estate prices plummeted. We had to think deeply about what we could do,” says Oscar Ortiz, the Mayor. “In order to turn our city around and make it disaster resilient, we realized we needed to stop improvising when disaster strikes and start planning ahead. We need to manage our land in a responsible and sustainable manner. We developed a ten-year plan to redevelop the city and now have a longer-term plan for a sustainable future through 2020. Citizens need to understand the significance of what we are doing or very little change will take place. We try to do this by encouraging participation in ‘Mesas de Ciudadanos’ (citizens groups), which bring a wide cross section of different stakeholder organisations together in periodic discussions and decision making. They soon come to understand that these are issues and decisions that concern their livelihood, their children, their schools and their productivity.” (Source: Interview with Mayor Oscar Ortiz, February 2011, UNISDR)
    For more information: Click on: Gestión de Riesgos 13.11 (in Spanish).

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  • According to the Pan American Health Organization, the cost of a building designed and built to withstand hazards such as earthquakes may increase the total cost of the structure by 1% to 5% (see example of Colombia in the 2011 Global Assessment Report.) When it comes to certain non-structural elements, the cost savings are dramatic. For example, a severely damaged electric generator could result in the loss of power and cost as much as US$50,000 to replace. This situation could be avoided by installing seismic isolators and braces to prevent the generator from moving, at a cost as low as US$250.