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Klaus Toepfer calls for a global effort to minimise the impact of natural disasters through better urban governance

30 Aug 1999 - Concerned about the recent tragedy in Turkey, Mr. Klaus Toepfer, Acting Executive Director of UNCHS (Habitat), sometimes known as the City Agency, has called for a global effort to help alleviate the desperate situation.

"The immediate humanitarian needs are an absolute priority," said Mr. Toepfer. "But what has happened in the towns and cities of Turkey is an important symbol of how the devastation caused by natural disasters is compounded by the unchecked process of urbanisation." He continued to say that with over 50% of humanity now living in towns and cities, it is increasingly important to plan and manage our cities well.

The last few decades have seen an unprecedented growth in the population of cities. Today, the average population of the world's 100 largest cities is over 5 million inhabitants as compared to 2.1 million in 1950 and less than 200,000 in 1800. This exponential growth has meant that it has been difficult for governments and local authorities to keep up with the corresponding demand for housing and infrastructure. In many countries, the pressure has lead to a deterioration in building standards; local authorities are often too ill equipped and poorly staffed to manage or monitor the regulations. The result is that the urban infrastructure has become unsafe.

An important part of the overall solution is to improve the quality of urban governance in all our cities. Local Authorities have to be helped with training and capacity building to ensure that they can minimise the impact of disasters through better land use management and stricter enforcement of construction standards. At the same time, new ways have to be found to empower citizens to participate in the management of their cities. For example, individuals must be given security of tenure so that they have a personal stake in the long term development and safety of their immediate neighbourhood.

"In a rapidly urbanising world, the international community has to make a global effort to ensure that our cities are better governed," said Mr. Toepfer. "The best way to minimise the destruction caused by natural disasters is to ensure that local authorities are trained and equipped to enforce appropriate construction laws. It is essential if we are to secure a safe future for ordinary citizens everywhere".

For more information please contact:
Mr. Sharad Shankardass
Media & Press Unit
UNCHS (Habitat)
P.O.Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya
Tel: 254-2-623153; Fax: 254-2-624060

Zahra A. Hassan
Media Liaison
United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat)
P.O.Box 30030
Tel: 254-2-623151 Fax: 254-2-624060 email: Website:

Monday 30 Aug 1999
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