What Role for Low-income Communities in Urban Areas in Disaster Risk Reduction?

Satterthwaite, D.
Date published
01 Jan 2011
Research, reports and studies
Disaster preparedness, resilience and risk reduction, Disaster risk reduction, National & regional actors, National Disaster Management Authority, Regional, Urban, Urban design/planning
International Institute for Environment and Development

This paper is about the role of low-income community organizations in urban disaster-risk reduction in low- and middle-income nations. It is well known that it is generally those with the lowest incomes that face among the highest risks of disasters in urban areas. This is largely because they live in poor quality housing in informal settlements that often develop on sites at risk from flooding or land-slides. These sites also lack risk-reducing infrastructure and services – for instance drains, health care and emergency services.

What this paper is interested in is how cities can reduce disaster risk, learning from the cities (and smaller urban centres) in low- and middle-income nations that have achieved this. Most of these follow a different path to cities in high-income nations. What it will highlight is many innovations in local "governance? – both in what local governments do and as importantly in what they do not do but what they encourage and support from their citizens, community organizations and other civil society groups. It is this local governance (and the space and support it provides for community driven solutions) that makes possible the dramatic reduction of disaster risks without needing to be underpinned by high per capita incomes. Of course, it depends on a larger local capacity to invest in risk-reducing infrastructure and services but even here, the way this is done (and the way citizens and civil society can contribute to this) has large implications for what can be afforded. This paper also highlights how organizations formed by residents of settlements at high risk (including informal settlements) can contribute to this. It highlights the importance for disaster risk reduction of a new generation of mayors and civil servants who understand this and act on it. It also highlights how this is important not only for preventing disasters but also for reducing their impacts and „rebuilding back better? after disasters.