Disaster and the city—what connects the two? The hint for this question is given by the following question and answer. Who is the main culprit for today's climate change and disasters? Cities. Indeed, it is time for cities to throw themselves into reducing disasters with enthusiasm. Since 2010, the United Nations (UN) has provided a chance for cities to help diminish global disasters through the MakingCities Resilient (MCR) campaign. More and more cities are joining the campaign and they shout in one voice, “My city is getting ready!”
▲ The logo of UNISDR. Provided by UNISDR. org
Greeting MCR Campaign
The MCR campaign was launched by UN secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN ISDR) in 2010. The UN ISDR was created in December 1999 and now, its Global Education and Training Institute (GETI) and Office for Northeast Asia are located in Songdo, Korea. As its name indicates, it aims to reduce the damage that was caused inside cities as well as caused by nature. Meanwhile, a noticeable characteristic of UN ISDR is that it tries to make a major shift from the traditional emphasis on disaster response to disaster reduction, and in effect to promote a culture of prevention.
The aim of the MCR campaign is to increase substantially the number of cities and local governments who are aware and taking action to reduce disaster risk as well as to raise the profile of local governments in their risk reduction, preparedness and recovery efforts. It is based on two main ideas; one is about voluntary participation of local governments and the other is the cooperation among local governments to reduce disaster risks. The first idea states that “Mayors and local governments are both the key targets and drivers for the campaign.” It means that local governments are the closest level of government to citizens and communities. They, therefore, should play the first role in responding to crises and emergencies. Through the MCR campaign, the cities are to think of how to enforce their capability for responding to disasters and substantially develop relevant infrastructure.
“Making cities safe from disaster is important to everyone” is the second idea of this campaign. That is, it pursues a cooperation among the cities, while sharing how to reduce disaster risk. Since the campaign is basically conducted by each city’s voluntary will, the participation of many cities is one of the critical parts of conducting the campaign. Accordingly, local as well as national governments should contribute in building disaster resilient cities. Indeed, there is a program of the MCR campaign to promote such a cooperation. An example of it is the City-to-City Learning program, which is a kind of partnership between two cities, learning from each other by sharing
each city’s information of disaster risk reduction.
▲ A world map showing that many of participating local governments are concentrated onKorea. Provided by www.unisdr.org.
How To Make Cities Resilient
The cities that joined the campaign are supposed to take the three following steps. To begin with, they need to be admitted by the UN ISDR. Then, the cities will be given ten-point checklists, which are the ten essentials for making cities resilient such as investing in maintaining critical infrastructure that reduces risk, to assign a budget for disaster risk reduction to provide incentives for the public, and to apply and enforce realistic, risk compliant building regulations and land use planning principles. Each city will establish specific plans about how to implement these ten points, autonomously by itself. Annually, the cities’ performance will be monitored by the National Emergency Management Agency. Only after it is chosen as a superb city for three years in a row, will the city be admitted as a Resilient City.
Gangnam-gu in Seoul for example, is planning a four pronged strategy: 1) attend a workshop about the MCR campaign monitoring education, 2) make a Brand Identity and character of the campaign for Gangnam-gu, 3) extend the number of Closed-Circuit Televisions (CCTV) for crime prevention, and 4) establish the infrastructure of cooperation between national and local governments. It shows how actively Korean local governments take part in the campaign. Professor Chung Suh-Yong (International Studies) of Korea University (KU) pointed out that Governments still have to focus more on the future. He said, “What is more important than joining the campaign is each
city’s substantial efforts to make itself resilient from then.”
▲ Professor Chung Suh-Yong is talking about what he thinks of MCR campaign in Korea.Photographed by Jung Woo Jae.
Are Korean Cities Getting Ready?
Around the world, 1,838 cities from 106 countries are taking part in MCR's campaign, which includes four American, seven Chinese, five Japanese and 117 Korean cities. It is quite impressive that more than 100 Korean cities have joined the campaign. To be specific, 58 city-level local governments and 59 district-level local governments are involved in the campaign. At the same time, however, it is also noticeable that among many Korean cities, there is no city that has been admitted as a Resilient City yet.
Chung pointed out, “The reason why there is no Resilient City in our country is because of the lack of understanding and capability of ‘Security.’” Indeed, in Korea it has not been a year since people started to emphasize security— especially after the Sewol incident,—and therefore it is not a main agenda of politicians. As a result, there is no integral system of responding to disaster in Korea.
According to Chung, when a disaster takes place, Korean organizations tend to address the problems case by case, and does not try to develop a general system for disaster reduction, which can be utilized globally as well. In fact, Chung also thinks that this also implies how Korea does not have the ability to lead other countries worldwide.
Just as most campaigns have its due date, the MCR campaign will meet its due date in 2015 as well. Even though the MCR campaign ends soon, movements with such meaning are necessary in the presentday. In that, MCR is undoubtedly a meaningful and effective campaign. It is meaningful because it aims to change people’s perception through the institutional approach. At the same time, it is also effective in that it walks in step with globalization and gathers worldwide countries to focus on one topic, disaster. Based on the idea of the MCR campaign, more formal and long-term efforts are expected in the future.