"Future of planet depends on local action" - Mayors

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction
Mayors meet with the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on making cities resilient.
Mayors meet with the UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson on making cities resilient.

GENEVA, 23 May 2013 - City mayors today urged national and international leaders to trust and invest more at the local level to transform rapidly expanding urban areas into safe and resilient 21st century cities.

The 50-plus mayors from around the world who attended this week's 4th Global Platform were united in their message: the future of this planet will be decided at the local level.

The value of urban investment over the next 40 years will be more than all in previous history. A packed forum on Building Resilience into Urban Planning and Investments was told "if we get it wrong the results will be catastrophic".

Ms. Emiko Okuyama, the Mayor of Sendai, Japan, badly affected by the March 2011 earthquake said: "We paid a tremendous price to learn the lesson that disasters cannot be prevented solely by improving facilities and taking other 'hardware' approaches.

"During the chaos that ensued after the Great East Japan Earthquake, we were able to make progress thanks to the bonds and mutual support that had been previously fostered in communities.

"Such situations require self-reliance among local residents and community bonds as well as disaster prevention and mitigation efforts via international collaboration."

When asked what her priorities were for the coming two years Mayor Okuyama unveiled 10 focus areas with seven focused on community-based initiatives and three more on infrastructure and systems oriented.

'HFA-2 should include provisions addressing efforts by residents, companies, community groups, and others to acquire knowledge and undertake training and education in preparation against disasters.'

The Mayor of Beirut, Hon. Bilal Hamad, said in Lebanon local government was a source of greater stability. "There is generally less turnover at the local level and central governments should work more with the local municipalities," he said.

Dr Faut Oktay, Director General of Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency of Turkey (AFAD) agreed that the focus should be at community level.

"It is impossible to succeed with any initiatives unless we educate families and work with the community," he said. "One of the biggest challenges is lack of empowerment of local authorities."

The Mayor of Chacao, Venezuela, Emilio Grateron, also emphasized the power of public participation to build broad based support and to get things done. He shared one example of women community leaders who have transformed a flood-prone area into a safe public space.

Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, Dawn Zimmer, recalled how her city "filled up with water like a bath tub" during Super Storm Sandy in 2012 and she reaffirmed her determination to lead her city and its residents to a safer and more resilient future.

Beirut Mayor Hamad also highlighted the difficulty to keep DRR at the forefront of thinking: "People have short memories. In Lebanon through all the civil war and instability within and the instability from outside with refugees and other issues people understandably are busy with other things and forget that in the past we have had earthquakes that have destroyed Beirut."

He added: "There is a large gap between paper plans and implementation. Our central government has a problem in convening. We must work in partnership."

Launched by UNISDR in 2010 at a time when half the world's population was already living in cities, the Making Cities Resilient Campaign is guided by three principles to know more, invest wiser, and build more safely.

Guidance on these principles is outlined in the campaign's Ten Essentials for Making Cities Resilient, the building blocks for urban disaster risk reduction, developed in line with the Hyogo Framework for Action.

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