Twinning for disaster risk reduction
BANGKOK, 10 April 2012 - Threatened by increasing and lethal seasonal floods, the 500-year old Malaysian port city of Melaka is making considerable efforts to reduce the disaster risks that it currently faces from such climate related catastrophic events.
Located along the Straits of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping routes, the city of Melaka with support from UNISDR, the UN's office for disaster risk reduction, has embarked on peer-to-peer learning through twinning programmes with other cities.
Melaka has established twinning relationship and cooperation with various cities since 1984: Lisbon, Portugal; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Valparaiso, Chile; Nanjing and Jiangsu Province and Changsha, China; Sawah Lunto and Padang Panjang, Indonesia.
"Melaka intends to meet and inspire others around the world to engage in essential actions that reduce disaster risks. These include investing in and maintaining critical infrastructure, regularly assessing the safety of schools and health facilities, and ensuring education programmes and training on risk reduction," said Melaka Mayor, Zainal Bin Abu, at the 12th International Convention of Melaka Twin Cities, which began today and will run until tomorrow.
The theme of the 12th Twin Cities Convention is Be Prepared for Emergency: Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction, and the aim is to revitalize cooperation among Twinning Cities, Friendship Cities, and other partners in the continuous efforts to strengthen existing relationships and move forward with innovative actions in various areas of mutual interest. The Convention began in April 2001.
According the Melaka World Heritage website, it is hoped that this convention will be a medium for exchanging ideas and information. It is vital to have emergency plans in place, so that the effects of disasters on people can be mitigated, and a coordinated response launched effectively and efficiently as possible when disasters or other crises strike.
In June 2010, Melaka received four times the average amount of rainfall. Despite a $41 million flood mitigation programme launched in 2009, according to newspaper reports, Chief Minister of Melaka State, Ali Rustam, "received a deluge of calls from irate city dwellers who found their homes submerged in almost a metre of water".
These disasters have proven to be lethal and a drain on the economy. A flood in January 2007 affected 137,533 people and caused the $605 million of losses in the country's Johor-Pahang region, which includes Melaka.
"Investments to protect and save lives, properties and livelihoods are far more cost-effective than post disaster response and recovery. I hope that the State Government of Melaka, together with local authorities, will collaborate with UNISDR to implement risk reduction action plans and programmes," said Chief Minister Ali Rustam.
Melaka became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for being one of Asia's most complete surviving settlements along the historic Malacca trade route. Its history is one of interactions with great trading nations from Europe, East and South Asia, and the Middle East over five centuries. This has encouraged tourism which is a blessing to the local economy. Melaka attracted more than 12.1 million tourists last year. Tourism generates more than $2.2 billion in revenue, employs more than 25,000 workers and contributes more than 70 per cent of the city's GDP.
Investment in flood protection is one way to protect the city's heritage sites, and last year, UNISDR named Melaka as a role model city for environmental-friendly flood control in its World Disaster Risk Reduction Campaign - Making Cities Resilient: "My city is getting ready".
Three of Malaysia's principal cities -- Melaka, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya -- joined the Campaign on the country's national disaster awareness day celebrations in February 2011. They are among 1,014 other cities around the world who have now joined the campaign to direct the attention of higher levels of government to the plight of local communities.
In March, UNISDR launched the guidebook, "How to Make Cities More Resilient -- a Handbook for Local Government Leaders". "All through the campaign, participating cities have asked for access to information from other cities on strategies and key policies to conduct effective disaster risk reduction planning. The handbook builds on their experience and is a compilation of DRR measures that have worked for many cities around the world," explained Helena Molin Valdes, UNISDR's interim director and Making Cities Resilient campaign manager.
"Resilience should become part of a city's strategic planning and urban development plans. While each city is different, there are some principles that are universal. The handbook gives the why, what and how of disaster risk reduction that can be applied universally or adapted to local context."