World Urban Forum - High-Level Dialogue 2: Implementing the New Urban Agenda to drive Sustainable Change

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

World Urban Forum

High-Level Dialogue 2: Implementing the New Urban Agenda to drive Sustainable Change

10 February 2020, 9:00-12:00

Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, UAE

Mami Mizutori

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

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Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today on this important topic. There is little doubt that with the rapid growth in urban populations around the world that we are seeing an increasing urbanisation of disasters and disaster risk.

Just last month I was reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, an occasion to remember that it is not earthquakes that kill people but buildings. Earthquakes are often simply man-made disasters waiting to happen.

If we are to truly succeed in making cities resilient, we must start with the built environment and avoid creating new risk as urbanization continues at breakneck speed around the world.

Over the last twelve months, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has been highlighting the importance of reducing damage to critical infrastructure, a key target of the Sendai Framework.

We need to go beyond building back better to an approach to that says build to last. We need durable, sustainable, low carbon solutions to providing the infrastructure in our cities that will allow people to live and work in safety.

There is nothing more expensive than the hospital, school or power plant that is damaged or destroyed in a disaster event.

When critical infrastructure fails in an urban setting it is usually a failure of governance especially if it is happening on a regular basis.

Last Christmas, the Kenyan city of Kisumu with a population of one million, was hit by rains so heavy that the main highway to Nairobi was closed.

About 10,000 people were displaced from their homes but the city manager, my friend Doris Ombara was able to point out that 50,000 people would have had to leave their homes if they had not put in place an early warning system and expanded the system of drainage canals during the dry season.

When I visited Kisumu last year, Doris told me that when she first took on the job, she felt overwhelmed by the number of fires and floods the city was exposed to.

Kisumu joined the UNDRR Making Cities Resilient Campaign and slowly but surely developed its capacity to improve the city’s resilience, starting with a zoning and mapping exercise. The findings convinced local politicians that there had to be a shift from managing disasters to identifying and managing the risks that were resulting in preventable deaths and large numbers of people being affected.

Doris is known as “Ten Point Mama” for the zeal she brings to preaching the Ten Essentials of the Making Cities Resilient Campaign.

The Campaign has provided much inspiration to the local governments of 4,300 cities and towns subscribed to it. It has helped them to allocate budget to disaster risk management, to promote a greater understanding of disaster risk among the general public and to reduce disaster losses.

In the case of Kisumu, it has resulted in improvements such as fewer fires from illegal electrical connections and fewer people displaced by floods during the two rainy seasons that occur each year. Water-borne diseases are also not as prevalent as before.

Investing in resilient infrastructure is a challenge and is not always easy in hazard-prone settings in low and middle-income countries where millions live in slums badly in need of upgrading.

The philosophy behind the New Urban Agenda and initiatives like the Making Cities Resilient Campaign is that good governance is key to sustainable change.

This is in line with UNDRR’s own findings through our series of Global Assessment Reports that the key driver of disaster risk is the lack of good governance and well-resourced institutions with the capacity to drive and implement necessary change.

One demonstration that good governance is in place is to ensure that national and local strategies for disaster risk reduction are adopted by the end of this year as set out in target E of the Sendai Framework.

 I have been in my position now for about two years. And in the course of that time, I have had an opportunity to speak at, and attend, ministerial conferences and regional platforms for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East.

What I have found encouraging in those meetings is the undoubted commitment to implementing the Sendai Framework accompanied by concrete planning which indicates that DRR has entered the mainstream of government life and is starting to impact on the key line ministries responsible for economic investment and important development decisions.

One of the indicators for Sendai success adopted by the UN General Assembly is the number of local governments that implement local disaster risk reduction strategies in line with national strategies.

This is key to the achievement of the New Urban Agenda and the overall 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda with relevance also for SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities.

Those local DRR strategies will demonstrate improved disaster risk governance if they address the other drivers of disaster risk.

These include extreme poverty which is often embedded in urban spaces; urban planning, which is critical to avoiding the creation of slums and unsafe communities; and environmental protection measures in urban settings prone to floods, storms, heat stress and drought.

The New Urban Agenda has helped to increase coherence across the different policy components of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, emphasising the complementary nature of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

I would like to close by listing five critical elements for making cities resilient:

  1. Good quality local data, on hazards, shocks and stresses, and exposure. 

  1. Plans for safer buildings and infrastructure in line with realistic, risk compliant building codes and land use regulations.

  1. Building local government capacity to prepare for, and respond rapidly to disasters, climate change and other stresses.

  1. Resilience needs to be measured at all scales – from the individual and household, to the municipal and national levels.

  1. Additional financing is often required to make urban areas resilient. Local governments need support in raising finance for resilience.

The ten-year-old Making Cities Resilient Campaign concludes at the end of 2020. Campaign partners and cities have asked for a follow-up programme that moves beyond advocacy and awareness raising to support cities to assess their resilience status, accelerate the development of local DRR strategies. 

The new phase of the Campaign will launch before the end of the year with a grand alliance of partners, and with the emphasis very much on implementation, fitting to the ‘Decade of Action’ as called for by the UN Secretary General.

The road to achieving the SDGs runs through our towns and cities, and millions travel on it every day in the hope that it will lead to a better, safer future for them and their children.

I hope that the outcomes of this World Urban Forum will help us all to travel on that road towards resilience.

Thank you for your attention.