By the year 2050, the number of people living in urban areas is projected to reach 6.5 billion, or roughly two-thirds of the world’s then expected population. Propelled by increasing rural to urban migration and rapid growth of cities in the developing world, the number of mega-cities across the world has nearly tripled — in 1990 there were 10 mega-cities, today there are 28 such cities that together account for a total of 453 million people.
It is easy to understand the mass migration to urban environments as these settings often offer better economic opportunities and access to essential services such as education and healthcare. However, rapid urbanization has resulted in a proliferation of unplanned slum settlements, unsafe construction practices and damage to natural resources, around the world. Governments are struggling to house this rising urban population and to decrease the extreme poverty that is often associated with these areas.
Making cities safe and sustainable often means upgrading slum areas and ensuring access to safe and affordable housing, as well as basic services and amenities. It also involves investment in public transport, creating green public spaces, and improving urban planning and management in a way that is both participatory and inclusive.
Realizing that sustainable development cannot be achieved without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our city spaces, ‘Sustainable cities and communities’ was adopted as Goal-11 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that together make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The SDGs, otherwise known as the Global Goals, were adopted at the UN Sustainable Summit in September 2015, and there was widespread agreement that an integrated approach was crucial to achieving progress across the multiple goals of the SDG. These goals are in general a follow-up on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — the eight anti-poverty targets set in 2000 and which the world committed to achieving by 2015.
The main target of Goal-11 is to ensure access to basic services and adequate, safe and affordable housing for all by 2030. This calls for inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management in all countries. It also aims to provide by the same time period, access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, notably by expanding public transport.
Another target of the goal is to significantly reduce the number of deaths and the number of people affected and to substantially decrease the direct economic losses caused by disasters, both natural and those induced by mankind, with a focus on protecting the poor and people in vulnerable situations.
In order to implement disaster risk reduction, Goal-11 urges the implementation of holistic disaster risk management at all levels. It calls for substantially increasing by 2020 the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards inclusion, resource efficiency, mitigation and adaptation to climate change and resilience to disasters.
In addition, the goal targets by 2030, to reduce the per capita adverse environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management; to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces for all and to strengthen efforts to safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
The goal also calls for supporting least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials and also developing positive economic, social and environmental links between urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning.
Goal-11 also highlights the importance of protecting urban centers that can suffer from ‘intensive risk’ due to the large number of people, facilities, services and assets condensed in a relatively small place and the consequent risk of substantial loss and damage in the event of disasters.
From megacities like Lagos and Jakarta, to smaller but rapidly expanding cities, we need to accommodate more people and address the likelihood of more risk. By undertaking risk-informed and resilient development, decades of hard work and costly development gains can be protected, and lives and livelihoods can be saved.
Given the impact of disasters on development, with at least $2 trillion in economic losses over the last two decades, it is important that the emphasis on disaster risk reduction (DRR) is comprehensive and transformative in its approach, with a particular emphasis on the integration of local capacity building into development.
National and local governments, supported by international organizations, need to undertake multi-layered capacity building to ensure that DRR is prioritized in good governance, and that the capacities, skills and resources are in place and ready to prevent, mitigate and prepare for future disasters.