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Growth of urban slums increases ‘megadisaster’ risk

by David Masters
May 19, 2009

The rapid growth of urban slums in developing countries coupled with extreme weather linked to climate change have significantly increased the risk of ‘megadisasters’, a UN body warned yesterday.

Nearly a billion people worldwide live in shantytowns or makeshift developments in cities vulnerable to natural disasters such as flooding, cyclones, and earthquakes, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction said in its new 200-page report.

The report, which outlines strategies to reduce the risk of major disasters, also warns that climate change has put millions of people living in rural areas at higher risk of disasters, including landslides where forests have been stripped away, and droughts caused by changing patterns of rainfall.

Highlighting the link between climate change and the increased occurrence of natural disasters is one the report’s key purposes.

However, it claims that even if effects of climate change are ignored, the risk of megadisasters is increasing worldwide because of the growth in the world’s population and the number of people moving to live in cities.

For example, shantytowns with poor drainage systems are making floods more frequent and severe, particularly in China, Bangladesh, and India.

“Urbanisation tends to increase the intensity of run-off during storms leading to heavy flooding, often due to an underinvestment in building and maintaining drains,” the report reads.

“In fact, many floods are caused as much by deficient or non-existent drainage, as by the intensity of rainfall itself.”

Developing countries that have recently experienced ‘rapid economic growth’ are most at risk due to inadequate construction standards and corruption among government officials, the report said.

“There are all these factors coming together: urban poverty, climate change, migration to cities from rural areas,” said the report’s lead author, Andrew Maskrey.

“This is bringing about a situation of impending catastrophes, but there’s also something we can do about it to lower the risks.”

Recommendations of the report include global leaders doing more to tackle climate change, and investing in sustainable disaster risk-reduction methods.

Since 1975, more than 1.7 mllion people have been killed in 23 megadisasters.

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