New York

04 October 2013

Secretary-General's remarks at World Habitat Day event: "Resilient Design for Sustainable Urbanization"

This month last year Hurricane Sandy blew havoc through the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the United States.

People lost lives and homes.

Repairing the damage cost billions of dollars and is still ongoing.

Since Sandy, many cities and communities have endured similar devastation.

In November Bangkok was inundated.

Last month severe storms struck both coasts in Mexico.

A mudslide buried La Pintada village and killed scores of people.

In Asia, recent typhoons have caused widespread flooding from the Philippines to mainland China and the Mekong basin.

That is why I welcome this high-level discussion for World Habitat Day.

I thank the Center for Resilient Design at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization, the American Institute of Architects New York chapter and UN-Habitat -- the United Nations Human Settlements Programme -- for convening.

As the effects of climate change increase, urban resilience becomes ever more necessary.

The population in large coastal cities exposed to cyclones and hurricanes will more than double to 680 million by 2050.

But climate change is not the only threat to growing urban populations.

More than half the world's large cities are in areas of high earthquake risk.

The humanitarian and economic cost of natural disasters is mounting.

Since the turn of the millennium, natural hazards have killed some 1.1 million people.

More than 2.7 billion have been affected.

The economic cost is estimated at $1.3 trillion.

The poor, who are hit first and worst, have the least means to recover.

Urban resilience is a sustainable development priority.

All actors need to work together to save lives, protect assets and guarantee services when disasters strike.

Planning is essential.

When settlements expand around older city centres, communities can become more vulnerable.

One answer is to reverse the trend of urban sprawl.

Rejuvenating city centres with more dense development can address a number of urban challenges.

Instead of hosting slums, floodplains and steep hillsides can be left intact to provide valuable ecosystem services such as flood control and protection from landslides.

Alternatively, they can be sustainably farmed.

Reducing sprawl can also cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with transport.

I am glad to see that resilience is being discussed here in close relationship with sustainable urban mobility.

Getting mobility right can mean the difference between a struggling city and a thriving one. 

Traffic congestion can add costs and slowdowns for commuters and commercial goods. 

The challenges of pollution and congestion are especially pronounced in developing country cities.

These areas will see some 90 per cent of global population growth in the coming decades. 

Cities in developing countries already struggle to meet growing demand for investment in transportation. 

They must also face the issue of ‘transport poverty’. 

Millions of people are denied the benefits of public or private transport because they cannot afford it.

Persons with disabilities and the elderly are regularly excluded by practicality.

Safety is a serious issue for many women, young persons and minorities.

Mobility is not a question of building wider or longer roads.

It is about providing appropriate and efficient systems that serve the most people in the best, most equitable manner. 

This includes encouraging a transition from car use to trains, buses and bicycles, and bringing more pedestrians onto well-lit sidewalks. 

People need to be able to get to work, school, hospitals and places of recreation safely and quickly. 

Getting mobility right can regenerate urban centres, boost productivity and make a city attractive for all users – from investors to visitors and residents. 

That is why I identified transport as a key building block for sustainable development in my Five-year Action Agenda launched in 2012. 

On this World Habitat Day let us commit to making our cities and towns accessible to all, resilient to disasters, socially inclusive, economically productive and environmentally sustainable.

Thank you.