Government officials debate planning challenges

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Office in Incheon for Northeast Asia and Global Education and Training Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction
Ger districts surrounding Ulaanbaatar in 2009.
Ger districts surrounding Ulaanbaatar in 2009.

INCHEON, 6 November 2012 - When it comes to critical infrastructure governments are increasingly aware of the role of disaster risk reduction in planning, and the value of applying the priorities for action in the Hyogo Framework for Action when it comes to protecting their investments.

Over 30 government officials from Armenia, Cambodia, The Gambia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Mongolia and Republic of Korea met today for the second day of the five-day Leadership Development Forum on Mainstreaming Adaptation and Disaster Reduction into Development, organized by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction at the Global Education and Training Institute for Disaster Risk Reduction at Incheon, Republic of Korea.

The well-being of city dwellers is a major concern of one participant, Dondmaa Enebish, from Mongolia's Ministry of Construction and Urban Development. The population of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city, is poised to hit 1.6 million in 2020, and Ms. Enebish worries about increased exposure to the risk of forest fires and floods and the added burden of managing a growing number of informal settlements.

In Mongolia, the National Emergency Management Agency requires cities to produce master plans that must be passed by parliament. Ms. Enebish, a senior officer in the Ministry's Department of Strategic Policy and Planning, said Ulaanbaatar will submit its plan to parliament by year's end or early 2013. While she expects it to pass without obstacle, she explained the challenge will come afterwards -- when further action is expected from lawmakers to ensure that related details, such as zoning regulations, are in place.

According to Ms. Dondmaa, parliamentarians need more guidance from experts to realize the full impact of their decisions and to improve decision-making. One of the goals of the 3rd Leadership Forum is to stimulate exchanges and break down the silos that can inhibit a holistic approach to disaster risk reduction across government ministries and between lawmakers and senior civil servants.

"It's important for planners to have the right information at the right time. Plans must be crafted so if one thing breaks, the whole chain doesn't collapse and cause a disaster," said Ephrat Yovel, sharing her experiences as a spatial planner for the state of Florida, United States. "They need to decide where and how to develop, and what to consider in that plan. They need the right initial structure, the right bones."

Ms. Yovel said the most frequent questions for planners are, "What to protect? What to maintain? And how to connect the different stakeholders?" She believes land use planning is a major opportunity to make sure that decision-makers have the best available information at the time of their decision.

In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the government has encouraged the development of two kilometers of vacant land along the Mekong River, where million-dollar villas were built and completed in late October. As the project moves to its next phase, Laotian officials are realizing that soon, planners in the area must begin to consider flood risk management, bringing together government, the private sector and community members.

To the south, Cambodia has recently addressed its flood vulnerability by building pumping stations near the capital, Phnom Penh, also located on the Mekong with a population of 1.3 million. Last year, heavy rains and overflow of the river caused a massive flood that placed 14,000 homes underwater and destroyed about 800 hectares of crops.

Ny Kimsan, Director of Program Management from the National Committee for sub-National Democratic Development Secretariat, said in addition to building four pumping stations to control overflow, Phnom Penh City Hall has compiled a new list of evacuation zones and plans to shore up the river embankment, in an exercise involving many planners.

Just as disaster risk reduction requires dialogue between multiple stakeholders within nations, discussion between countries are just as common. The Gambia's West Coast region, which borders Senegal to the north and south, is increasingly in the spotlight. "Many development projects are coming to that region because it is next door to Gambia's capital, where land has run out. It's of concern to us because it is a very vulnerable region," said Poulo O. N. Joof, acting Executive Director at the National Disaster Management Agency.

He said Senegalese refugees fleeing conflict contributes to population pressure that is already stimulated by Gambia's own domestic rural-urban migration. The area is now becoming increasingly flood-prone because of deforestation that is caused, in part, by people's demand for firewood.

And now, the race for economic growth in this area has led to a proliferation of hotels along the sea and in the bush, and other types of development. "The challenge is to ensure that physical planning laws are enforced to abate the flooding and other risks. Not everyone is following regulations. Some people are constructing without permits," said Mr. Joof.

Glenn Dolcemascolo, Head of Office at the Global Education and Training Institute said: "Many plans and regulations are in place but they need political commitment to make them a reality. Equipped with good information about risk and vulnerability, decision-makers might find the impetus they need to secure that commitment."

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