Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Some hard talk about towns

Cities and natural disasters
Some hard talk about towns

Oct 4th 2007

IT ISN'T just an urban myth: life in a city really is getting more dangerous, and the sources of peril are not just human ones like muggers and reckless motorists. A report by UN-Habitat, an agency responsible for human settlements, says the number of natural disasters affecting urban populations has risen four-fold since 1975.

Some of the reasons are obvious, others less so. As the world's population grows, people are crowding into mega-metropolises, where life's risks are horribly concentrated. The after-effects of a natural disaster can be especially dire in a vast, densely-packed area where sewers fail and disease spreads.

At a pace that no urban planner can control, slums spring up in disaster-prone areas—such as steep slopes, which are prone to floods, mudslides or particularly severe damage in an earthquake. Many of the world's cities are located on coasts or rivers where the effects of climate change and extreme weather events, from cyclones to heatwaves to droughts, are brutally and increasingly felt. Economic dislocation and human pain are also caused by events (like recent floods in the Indian city of Kolkata, see above) that are too small to grab global headlines.

But there is no reason for the sort of fatalism that regards disasters, and their disproportionate effects on the urban poor, as something that has “always been with us” and will inexorably get worse. (more...)