Chaotic urbanization puts cities in harm's way: UN

Thu May 26, 2016 9:41am EDT
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By Megan Rowling

ISTANBUL (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The risk of man-made and natural disasters hitting fast-growing cities is rising, and national governments must do more to help municipal authorities protect residents through better planning, the head of the U.N. agency for human settlements said.

UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos said urbanization was accelerating, particularly in developing countries, while the capacity to keep it manageable was diminishing.

The proportion of the global population living in urban areas has risen from half in 2000 to 55 percent now, he noted. It is predicted to reach 70 percent by 2050.

Most of the growth in urbanization is unplanned, Clos told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul this week.

"A lot of people are living on unprepared sites, and that means the risk of catastrophe is increasing," said Clos, a Spanish politician who served as mayor of Barcelona from 1997 to 2006. "If we are not able to change that, be prepared to see bigger numbers of victims."

National governments must step up and provide direct support to local officials so they are better equipped to carry out urban planning, he said. But that is a challenge, "because there is no real understanding of what urban planning is", he added.

Some African cities have municipal budgets of just $6 per person per year, he said, leaving mayors without the resources to act.

"(We) need change at the national level in order to understand the risk that unplanned or spontaneous urbanization represents - even for the political stability of the country," Clos said.   Continued...

Buildings under construction are seen during a hazy day in Rizhao, Shandong Province, China, March 15, 2016. REUTERS