Cities at Risk: the Challenge for NGOs

Address by Anwar Fazal, Regional Coordinator, Asia-Pacific 2000 at the National Workshop of Disaster Mitigation, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia, 13 October 1996, organised by the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (FOMCA)

History has given us three lessons:

Firstly, every major civilization was destroyed because it did not make peace with the environment. They blamed it as an “Act of God” or called it a “Natural Disaster” when these events were the “revenge of nature” or due to the “stupidity of mankind”.

Secondly, if you want to know where any country’s future is heading, look at their main cities – if they cannot manage their cities, they have little hope in managing their future. A “sick city” is a sign of a sick civilisation.

Thirdly, if you want to know the real character and competence of a people, just see how they react in a crisis or a disaster, we see the real and the worst side of our characters emerge.

Unfortunately, most societies do not learn from such valuable past experiences and they forget easily.

The UN’s Role

The United Nations has launched the International Decade of National Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) and each year on the second Wednesday of October, groups all over the world celebrated World Disaster Reduction Day.

We in Malaysia seem somehow to have forgotten like many other countries, about this day. And a few days later, we were reminded gently, this time with “tremors”. We are told that there is no cause for alarm! I am sorry, but alarmed we must be. The world and our cities are going down paths that can only be described as reckless or suicidal – someone has called the phenomena “urbicide”.

Our Forests, - our lungs are being destroyed

Our Rivers - our circulation systemare being polluted

Our Air - our life is being poisoned

The Ozone Layer - our skin is being battered

The Wetlands - our kidneys, are being damaged.

We are in many places, engaged in a destructive mode, a “developmental” madness, for which a heavy price will be paid now and in the future and from which, for many people and many countries, there may be no return.

Can we do something? Yes, we can. I suggest three areas for attention.


Firstly, think of the three P’s

·         Prevention – support eco-centred policies and build culture of sustainable maintenance.

·         Preparedness – develop pro-active plans and procedures, hotlines/coping, mechanisms, Fire/Police/Hospitals/Civil/Defence mechanisms that work effectively.

·         Partnerships – the need to involve everyone, citizen groups, government, business etc.

Secondly, think of the three E’s

·         Education – develop interesting and useful modules for schools, universities, workplaces.

·         Engineering – think ecology, safety, and sustainability.

·         Enforcement – We may need to develop a national “green police”? (The abuse of Cameron Highlands shows our weakness).

Thirdly, think of the three C’s

·         Communication – we need to be able to let people know what the problem is, what to do and where to go. The recent “black out” showed how weak we were.

·         Compensation – This must be fair and quick.

·         Caring – the first and prime concerns will be the welfare of victims.

I have five specific suggestions for joint actions:

·         Develop a comprehensive national framework to generate quality programmes on disaster issues.

·         Develop a national disaster preparedness plan that involves all sections but specially schools, workplaces and communities.

·         Develop a “lifeline” approach, clear information and action on what to do.

·         An urgent educational programme for all schools – for in the long run this will help us cope.

·         The government must ensure that it resolves disaster problem earnestly and justly. Otherwise, the credibility of governance will go and credibility of the rule of law will go down the drain.

In concluding, I hope a National Citizen Network for Disaster Reduction can be formed at the end of this workshop and a systematic plan of action be developed.

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