A key factor that influences the magnitude of a disaster is the “exposure” of populations to the threats of the natural event. For instance, rivers periodically flood, storm surges happen in coastal areas, and pronounced slopes are prone to landslides; if populations are settled in these areas, there is a high probability of a catastrophe.

In urban settings around the world, the high demand but limited availability of safe land adds to the exposure, often resulting in more disadvantaged and lower-income populations settling in high risk areas or illegally occupying land to build their homes –  places where local governments are not willing to provide basic services such as drinking water, sanitation, or electricity. Add to this lack of secure land tenure, which deters households from investing in upgrades and maintenance. These issues compile to dramatically inhibit the resiliency of these communities.

Furthermore, when a disaster strikes, people living in illegal settlements often do not receive government support, or even support from some aid organizations, as – secure land tenure unfairly becomes a criteria for selecting beneficiaries – even when it goes against humanitarian principles.

I strongly believe that the solution to this problem is “real” sustainable development: sustainable development that means considering people’s rights, observing socioeconomic and environmental issues, and putting in place available technical solutions, amongst others.

A city that is inclusive for all household must ensure access to safe land for current inhabitants and for those who will arrive in the near future. It requires land management and urban planning that seriously takes into consideration environmental issues, hazard mapping, livelihoods and gender issues.

And some cases, where the risk exists but it is moderate, adequate technical solutions for mitigating the risk, such as public infrastructures – retaining walls, river embankments, coast protection – and ensuring that buildings are resistant to local threats through elevation, anti-seismic building techniques and employing wind-resistant structures, in addition to other techniques are required..

In conclusion, I ask that you join me in calling attention to the need for sustainable and inclusive cities to ensure access to land tenure, adequate public services and infrastructures with the ultimate goal of assisting households and communities to be more resilient to natural disasters.