Safe Cities Highlighted at UN, ASEAN Disaster Reduction Day Observance Bangkok (UN ESCAP Information Services) – With unprecedented urban growth throughout the Asia-Pacific region and a documented vulnerability to natural disasters, it is more important than ever that the region adopt a culture of disaster risk reduction in making sure that cities grow in a safer and disaster resilient way.

This was one of the key messages from the observation of the International Day for Disaster Reduction and the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management by the United Nations and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). To mark the occasion, a Regional Drawing competition for children was conducted on the theme My City, My Future: Making ASEAN Cities Safe from Disasters.

The event was organized by ASEAN, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN/ESCAP), and the Ministry of Interior of Thailand.

“With the changes in the human society we are more urban,” said UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in a message read by Under Secretary General and ESCAP Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer. “If earthquakes, floods or storm surges were deadly in the past, they are deadlier still in an increasingly urbanized world.”

Mr Ban noted that many cities are located on coasts, vulnerable to storms and rising sea levels. More than a billion people in Asia live within 100 kilometres of the sea. However, local governments are protecting themselves by building more sustainable cities, and more than 100 cities and nearly 110 million residents are taking part in UNISDR’s ‘Making Cities Resilient’ campaign since its launch last May.

Dr Heyzer, in her own statement said, “Disaster risk reduction is about saving people’s lives.” She went on to note that the urban population in Asian cities would reach 2.3 billion by 2025 from the current 1.6 billion, with nearly half of the world’s urban population living in the Asia-Pacific region.

To make Asian cities more resilient, ESCAP promotes regional cooperation mechanisms which allow member states to gain immediate help from other Asian countries when a disaster hits; to assist effective use of information, communication and space technology; and to assist effective land use planning and implementation of building codes.

“By 2030, when a majority of this region’s population will live in urban areas we want to see cities that are economically productive, environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive and just, and resilient to climate change and other crises,” said Dr Heyzer.

The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan noted “the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) affirms ASEAN’s commitment to the Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) and is the first legally-binding HFA-related instrument in the world. ASEAN is on the move to attain the vision of disaster resilient nations and safe communities by 2015. We fully support this year’s theme for the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management and International Day for Disaster Reduction: “Making Cities Resilient” and join in the World Disaster Reduction Campaign to invest more in urban disaster risk reduction.”

Awards were given to children ranging in age from eight to twelve, from ASEAN and South Asian countries for the drawing competition. The winners for ASEAN were from Brunei Darussalam, Philippines, and Thailand, and for South Asia winning entries were from India, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. Essay writers on the theme “The role of youth in Urban Disaster Risk Reduction” from the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Samoa were also awarded.

The Minister of Interior of Thailand congratulated all the winners and stated that “drawings will be exhibited throughout the region to create the awareness of safer communities and disaster resilient health facilities in the region. This is an important moment for us to come together to commemorate the Day and showcase as the key actors in disaster management and disaster reduction in this region what we have accomplished with the greatest efforts to build safer communities”.