Natural disasters - such as flood, extreme heat and drought-in MENA countries have affected 40m people over the last 30 years, aggravated by a number of factors including the rise in population density.
Mr Jamal Saghir, a former director of the World Bank Group and an affiliated scholar at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, writes this in an opinion piece in The National.
In total, 62% of MENA's population live in cities, and the urban population is expected to double by 2040. If not properly managed and planned, urbanisation trends can put a severe strain on water, waste, housing, energy and utility systems, unleashing long-term stresses on their efficiency and exposing their weaknesses, particularly when impacted by internal or external forces.
Approach to urban development
The growth of sustainable cities needs to be disaster-proofed, says Mr Saghir. He added, “We should go beyond conventional approaches to risk reduction and advocate a forward-looking approach to urban development, encompassing the spatial, physical, functional and organisational dimensions of any inhabited settlement.”
Most MENA governments have embarked on resilience and development in response, including setting up early-warning systems, building institutions and infrastructure to better handle disasters and gathering an accurate picture of the risks they face.
Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, which was affected by flooding in 2009 and 2011, has undertaken significant steps towards flood-risk reduction by improving drainage infrastructure and land use planning. Dubai has implemented development for urban search and rescue, contingency planning, firefighting and emergency response.
The Jordanian port city of Aqaba has instigated a variety of initiatives regarding earthquake risk reduction, including risk assessment, public awareness, urban search and rescue, and community voluntary teams.
Meanwhile Fez in Morocco has community-level disaster risk management initiatives and the coastal city of Byblos in Lebanon, known to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has an action plan to mitigate risks.
These good practices display the importance that concerned city authorities attach to disaster risk reduction for the safety of their populations. There is a need to replicate such good practices on a wider scale in the region, says Mr Saghir.
But to implement these plans successfully and manage increasingly large and complex urban systems, there is a need for better co-ordination at a central and local level, increased participation of the private sector in urban development and a devolution of responsibilities and budgets to local authorities.