Cities are exposed to numerous risks linked to the environment. Some are directly related to the characteristics of urban settlements; other risks derive from external factors, such as: climate change, earthquakes, floods or extreme weather events. If a city is struck by a disaster such as a hurricane, an earth quake or an industrial accident, it can quickly impact the lives of millions of inhabitants and have a major effect on the country's economy.
Population growth and urban sprawl lead to a spatial expansion of the cities to risk prone areas, not suitable for human settlements, like slopes, inundation zones or riverbanks which are exposed to erosion, flooding or landslides. In these situations, the urban poor often have little alternatives than to settle in areas of high risk.
To minimize risks, land use planning and zoning regulations, building codes and by-laws are in place in many cities and countries worldwide. However, in low-income countries and economies in transition, these measures might not exist, be outdated or not executed rigorously. Assessing the risk and vulnerability of a local community is the first step for raising awareness of, prepare for and react appropriately to an emergency. While it might be impossible to completely avoid a disaster, certain risks can be minimized. Risk awareness and preparedness can reduce the loss of lives, homes and infrastructure.
UNEP's Awareness and Preparedness for Emergencies on a Local Level Programme (APELL) supports communities in preventing, preparing and responding appropriately to technological and environmental disasters. APELL was developed in jointly with NGOs, local governments and industry representatives to develop co-ordinated responses to incidents. The programme raises awareness on potential risks and builds capacity to disaster preparedness and responses. Furthermore, emergency services are prepared by putting coordination and information systems in place. So far, APELL is successfully introduced in more than 30 countries in over 80 communities worldwide.