UN-Habitat:Shimla yet to learn from previous disasters

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New Delhi, Oct 7 (UNI) As many as 80 per cent of the buildings in Shimla, capital of Himachal Pradesh do not meet seismic standards, and many are inappropriately high for an earthquake-prone region, according to a new UN-Habitat report.

The report -- Enhancing Urban Safety and Security - Global report on Human Settlements -- was launched by the UN agency for human settlements to coincide with World Habitat Day on October 1.

It pointed out that rapid and chaotic urbanisation has spurred crime rates across the world and made cities more disaster-prone The report pointed out that in 1905, an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale damaged much of the city originally designed for 25,000 occupants.

Nonetheless, since then, urban development has proceeded apace without due regard to hazard management, and risk has accumulated as the city has grown.

According to the report despite the introduction of seismic building codes in 1971, 80 per cent of the buildings do not meet standards, and many are inappropriately high for an earthquake sensitive region.

It also added that emergency services were severely under-funded, with 100 fire fighters with six fire engines expected to serve the entire city and surrounding areas.

It also mentions Bhopal gas tragedy as ''some events which shook entire generations and remain engrained in people's collective memory''.

While referring to the leakage of poisonous gas from Union Carbide factory in Madhya Pradesh's capital, the report makes an interesting observation : ''Foreign investment can bring prosperity and be a resource for risk management. On the other, it can lead to increased vulnerability through the lowering of employment rights and environmental protection legislation.'' According to the report rapid urbanisation is fast becoming a force shaping where and when disaster strikes and who it most affects. Huge concentrations of people and physical and financial assets in today's fast-growing cities means that a single major disaster can result in human catastrophe and destroy decades of development gains.

However, it observed that in those cities where government and civil society take risk reduction seriously, great progress can be made.

The UN document identifies Asia as the world's largest and most populous continent, is the most disaster-prone region.

The continent has the highest incidence of disasters associated with avalanches, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, windstorms and industrial accidents. Flooding was the most frequent natural hazard affecting the largest number of people and causing the greatest economic losses.

The report suggested a cocktail of urban planning, policy, design and governance to make cities safe and secure.

It enlisted UN-Habitat's Safer Cities Programmes, Framework for Sustainable Relief and Reconstruction and the Sustainable Cities Programme as the initiatives being taken for addressing the challenges before governments thrown by rapid urbanisation.

UNI

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