By Baher Kamal* – Human Wrongs Watch
The migration of some 1.4 million people every week to cities around the world “can strain local capacities, contributing to increased risk from natural and human made disasters’” according to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.
In his message for World Cities Day, celebrated annually on 31 October, Guterres stressed that “hazards do not need to become disasters.”
“The answer is to build resilience – to storms, floods, earthquakes, fires, pandemics and economic crises,” he said.
Guterres explained that cities around the world are doing just that, forging new ways to increase resilience and sustainability. The capital of Thailand, Bangkok has built vast underground water storage facilities to cope with increased flood risk and save water for drier periods.
In Quito, the capital of Ecuador in South America, local government has reclaimed or protected more than 200,000 hectares of land to boost flood protection, reduce erosion and safeguard the city’s freshwater supply and biodiversity.
The UN chief also indicated that the city of Johannesburg in South Africa “is involving residents in efforts to improve public spaces so they can be safely used for recreation, sports, community events and services such as free medical care.”
World Cities Day was established by the UN to promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.
Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN Habitat), flagged the importance of investing in resilience or face growing “economic, social, political and human” risks.
“It has been estimated that without action on climate change – which accounts for just one facet of resilience – some 77 million urban residents risk falling into poverty,” she warned, elaborating that human-made and environmental threats ranged from droughts, floods and fires to economic shocks, disease outbreaks, war and migration.
“Investing in resilience is a wise investment,” the UN Habitat chief said.
The theme of this year’s commemoration, Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities, focuses on the need to preserve human life and limit damage and destruction while continuing to provide infrastructure and services after a crisis.
A range of UN-backed international agreements, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the New Urban Agenda provide “a roadmap for a more sustainable and resilient world,” according to the UN Secretary-General. (SOURCE: UN).
*Publisher and editor of Human Wrongs Watch. Egyptian-born, Spanish national, secular journalist, with over 45 years of professional experience — from reporter to special envoy to chief editor of national dailies and an international news agency. Baher is former Senior Advisor to the Director General of the international news agency IPS (Inter Press Service) and he also contributed to prestigious magazines such as GEO, Muy Interesante, and Natura, Spain.
Annex: Oslo leads the way in ‘Breathe Life’ campaign for cleaner cities in climate change era
Norway’s capital Oslo is paving a fossil-free, electrified, path in its push toward improving air quality, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has announced.
The city is a global front runner when it comes to sustainability, having implemented methods of recycling waste into heat and electricity, and allowing cyclists precedence over private cars.
The Executive Director of UN Environment Erick Solheim, said the capital city’s pollution reduction sets the example for “turning climate action into an opportunity.”
A major contributor to dwindling emissions has been the city’s transition toward renewable fuel solutions. Oslo has the highest number of electric vehicles in the world per capita, which alone has decreased CO2 emissions by 35 per cent since 2012, UN Environment reports.
Benefits for drivers include reduced taxes, access to bus and taxi lanes, free travel on toll roads and public ferries, together with free municipal parking. All public transport in Oslo, and neighbouring Akershus, is to be powered completely by renewable energy by 2020.
Oslo is one among 42 cities taking part in Breathe Life, a campaign led by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNEP, and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition aimed at exploring clean air options and reducing pollutants to safe levels by 2030.
The network of participating cities are spread across the world, each tailoring their approach to clean air issues locally.
In Colombia’s Santiago de Cali, the city has focused on the reduction of agricultural burning along with transport emissions. While in the capital of Ghana, Accra, where long hours are spent near wood and charcoal cookstoves, the city has outlined strategies to improve household and ambient air pollution.
Highlighting that such changes will improve the everyday lives of citizens, Mr. Solheim said, “I hope that other cities around the world will be inspired by what Oslo is doing.”