Mr. Kinlay Dorjee, Mayor of Thimphu, displays the certificate marking the Bhutan capital’s membership of UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient Campaign. Photo: Tejas Patnaik/ UNISDR
By Chris Weeks
BANGKOK, 4 April 2018 - Bhutan’s famous Gross National Happiness index has been given a boost with the announcement that its capital, Thimphu, has joined UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient Campaign.
Mr. Kinlay Dorjee, Mayor of Thimphu, became the 702nd local leader in Asia to sign up to the Campaign when he attended last week’s Fifth Asia-Pacific Forum on “Sustainable Development: Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.”
Mayor Dorjee, who spent 15 years as an engineer before becoming the city’s first elected leader, said: “In the last five years we’ve improved clean water supplies, fixed parks and open spaces, tackled crime, tidied up litter, and provided better public transport. But another step to happiness is knowing the progress we’ve made is as secure as possible.
“Our neighbour Nepal had a very big earthquake. We’re in the same Himalayas, and we could be hit any time. Through the ‘Resilient Cities’ campaign, we’ll be stepping up our efforts to protect them, and the economy they rely on, against the threat of disaster.”
Steps already identified by Mayor Dorjee include relocating informal settlements into proper housing and ensuring a 30-metre buffer zones along the main river to prevent flood damage, which is also an opportunity to create public open spaces which benefit all residents. The population of Thimphu was recorded at 104,000 in 2015.
Welcoming Thimphu to the Campaign, Loretta Hieber-Girardet, Chief of UNISDR’s Asia and Pacific office said: “Leaders from cities across the Asia-Pacific know that years of progress can be wiped out in an instant, unless the right plans are in place to prepare for disaster.
“Local change is spurred by local leadership, and I believe Mayor Dorjee’s foresight and commitment will inspire others to take action.” The Fifth Asia-Pacific Forum was a preparatory event for the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that will be held under the auspices of the Social and Economic Council at the UN Headquarters in New York in July.
A key focus for the HLPF will be on Sustainable Development Goals which impact urban risk including clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production.
Advocates for the Making Cities Resilient Campaign came together at the Asia-Pacific Forum to raise awareness of the need for improved disaster resilience in their communities – meaning the ability to withstand and recover from hazards such as storms, earthquakes, drought and floods.
Panellists at a special side-event included Ms. Violeta Seva, a lawyer and urban planner from the Philippines who specialises in mega-cities disaster planning. Ms Seva highlighted the importance of understanding risk – and how taking part in the Resilient Cities Campaign could attract support and funding.
Sri Sofjan, Senior Strategist from the Huairou Commission, an organisation which inspires grassroots women’s leadership, stressed that effective resilience planning means identifying citizens who are most at risk.
Wanun Permpibul, Director of Climate Watch Thailand, highlighted the need to understand individual motivations for moving to cities and what makes populations vulnerable.
The discussion came as preparations gain pace for the 2018 Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction on 3-6 July in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Delegates will review the regional progress in the Sendai Framework implementation and achievement of its targets.
Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world, with more than $1.3 trillion in assets lost through disaster since 1970. Recent projections indicate the region’s cities will grow by more than one billion people from 2010 to 2040, with two-thirds of Asia-Pacific’s population living in these cities by 2050. Rapid urbanisation – coupled with climate change – makes urban resilience a pressing issue facing leaders across the region.