The Global Urbanist

News and analysis of cities around the world


Asian cities some of the worst and best places to be during a disaster

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has released its 2010 World Disasters Report, which highlights the "urban risk divide" between wealthy cities like Tokyo that are braced for disaster, and poorer cities like Kathmandu, Manila and Jakarta which would face serious losses of life and home during similar events.

Cities: Dhaka, Mumbai, Kathmandu, Jakarta, Manila

Topics: Emergencies and reconstruction, Earthquakes, Flooding and storms

Well-run, well-built cities can be among the safest places on earth to be when disaster strikes. However, where physical and social infrastructure is weak, they can be among the worst.

"Physical infrastructure, land-planning and the size of informal settlements are the biggest factors determining the impact of disasters on cities," said N.M.S.I. Arambepola, director of Urban Disaster Risk Management with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre in Bangkok. "With so many people migrating to the cities, many of the most vulnerable urban populations settle in the more disaster-prone areas where no one else wants to live."

The disparity between well-planned and well-built wealthy cities, and poorer ones, - called the "urban risk divide" by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in its 2010 World Disasters Report - is especially acute in Asia, where someone in the Philippines is up to 17 times more likely to be killed by a natural disaster than someone in Japan, although the likelihood and frequency of disaster in Japan is higher overall.

With seven of the ten most populous cities in the world, and an urban population expected to double from1.36 billion to 2.64 billion by 2030, according to the UN Population Fund, the UN's 2010-2011 disaster reduction campaign focusing on making cities more resilient is particularly relevant for Asia.

Tropical storms, floods, earthquakes and melting glaciers threaten urban populations in Asia, but where are some of the most dangerous cities to live if a natural disaster strikes?

Kathmandu, Nepal: Every year, settlements in Kathmandu valley experience floods and landslides but Kathmandu itself (population 1.5 million) is at particular risk. Records show that an earthquake happens every 75 years in the city. The last one, in 1934, killed almost 20,000. Scientists are expecting another quake of about eight on the Richter scale, which according to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) would kill at least 50,000 people and leave an estimated 900,000 homeless. The surrounding Himalayan peaks and limited number of roads in and out of the valley would make relief efforts very difficult.

Manila, Philippines: Eighteen million residents of the Philippines' largest city region live in a coastal area prone to flooding during the June-November rainy season. Located in the "Pacific Ring of Fire", Manila residents are also at risk of volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and earthquakes, and are exposed to about 20 cyclines a year. The growth of slums, estimated to house almost three million people, according to the UN-HABITAT, is particularly at risk of flooding and landslides.

Dhaka, Bangladesh: Almost 30 percent of the 14 million people in this city live in slums along the water's edge, exposing them to flooding. The Stanford-based earthquake disaster risk index lists Dhaka as one of the 20 most vulnerable cities in the world to earthquakes.

Mumbai, India: The fourth largest city in the world with 20 million people, and 6.7 million slum dwellers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is also one of the top 10 most vulnerable cities in terms of floods, storms and earthquakes. According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), Mumbai is the most vulnerable in the world in terms of total population exposed to coastal flood hazard, it is among the world's top six cities most vulnerable to storm surges, and it lies on an earthquake fault-line. Like many of Asia's coastal mega-cities, most of the city is less than a metre above sea-level. With Mumbai accounting for almost 40 per cent of India's tax revenue, any serious catastrophe here could have drastic economic consequences for the country.

Jakarta, Indonesia: Forty per cent of the land area of Jakarta is below sea-level. As a result, its 10 million inhabitants are at risk of flash floods, particularly along the 13 river systems which pass through the Jakarta region. Jakarta also has a moderate risk of earthquakes due to the country's location along the Indo-Asia subduction zone. With 60 per cent of the nation's money circulating in this city, any serious disaster would have country-wide economic effects. Furthermore, the high population density averaging 14,000 people per square kilometre, a significant portion of which are slum-dwellers, increases a disaster's potential to course harm.

Source: IRIN news service


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