Urban Planning and Public Safety: Integrating Disaster Preparedness for Sustainable Physical Development of Mombasa.

The first and primary responsibility of government, no matter what form that government takes, is to protect the health, safety and well being of its citizens. Minimizing risk and vulnerability from natural and human induced hazards falls directly into that responsibility. Urban settlements have increasingly become vulnerable from the effects of disasters. The migration of population to urban areas increases human vulnerability as population densities increase, infrastructure becomes overloaded, living areas move closer to potentially dangerous industries, and more settlements are built in fragile areas such as floodplains, beachfronts or areas prone to landslides. Technical advances are supposed to, and do, improve safety against disasters, but they also bring about increased human error and, in their abuse, terrorist activities. As a result, catastrophes affect more people and economic losses increase.

While these concerns have always been there, they have now greatly expanded and a new dimension added after a series of global events such as the Nairobi Bomb Blast of 1998, the New York terrorist attack of 2001, the Indian Ocean Tsunami on 2004 and the Hurricane Katrina deluge on New Orleans in 2005. In all the cases the losses were incalculable. Urban Planners and Designers have never been so much under pressure to make a contribution in making human settlements safer.

International effort has recently shifted from emphasis on response to prevention. This is out of the realization that every urban planning decision has implications for disaster mitigation. Nationally, these global events coupled with local ones such as the incessant flooding at Budalangi in Western Kenya, the EI-Nino phenomenon of 1997/1998 and the Paradise Hotel bombing in 2002 in Mombasa, have jolted the Government into instituting several policy measures including the formation of a National Disaster Operation Centre (NDOC) with a view to institutionalising preparedness against future disasters.

This study has localised these global and national efforts by analysing the disaster preparedness of the Island City of Mombasa. It is premised on the fact that only at the local level are there developmental and legal tools required to implement such an effort, particularly the physical planning/development process. The study was carried out by first developing a conceptual framework on disaster preparedness through a review of related literature. A Vulnerability Index, which was the basis of sampling the action areas, was then developed for the whole Municipality of Mombasa at the lowest administrative (sub-location) level by using a combination of three indicators of vulnerability namely; population density,  development density and poverty levels. This indicated that the Island City was more vulnerable than its mainland parts. Next the study analysed the vulnerability of the Island City using three contingent conditions; its physiographic setting, its socio-economic characteristics and its land use patterns. The preparedness services in the Island including medical facilities, police stations, fire fighting installations, green and open spaces, accesses and institutional frameworks were then evaluated to gauge their mitigative role. Public awareness is central in any preparedness initiative, therefore, the perception of the residents on vulnerability and preparedness of the Island Town at household level, key informants and the general public was assessed using questionnaires, focus group discussions, and informal consultations. After synthesizing and analysing the data, the study developed a Planning Matrix for Integrating Disaster Preparedness for the Sustainable Physical Development of the Island City of Mombasa, and potentially other urban centres. From it, policy recommendations were drawn.

The study made the following main findings; firstly, Mombasa was found to be vulnerable from all its contingent conditions. Us preparedness was found to be nominal. Secondly, the study found disasters to be more of social events than physical phenomena in that the factor of people and their vulnerability is the most important ingredient since only its presence transforms hazards into disasters. Since hazards, being the causal factors, are sure to occur as a matter of 'when" not Mf, the contingent conditions which are largely spatial, are what should preoccupy planners wishing to mitigate the effects of disasters by systematically seeking to improve them. Thirdly, the study found that development is the root cause of disasters and, therefore, must not be separated from the disaster management process, since disasters are essentially debts of development; what development forgets to take into consideration, it pays back at a later date.

The study gave policy recommendations for disaster preparedness in Mombasa based on the following four objectives: to decrease the level of potential risk; to mitigate the consequences of disastrous events; to localise and limit the scope of catastrophes, and; to facilitate rescue operations. The recommendations include: improvement of regional conditions both on the mainlands of Mombasa and neighbouring regions so as to better manage and stabilise population densities within the Island; reduction of traffic congestion within the island by planning for transit traffic to bypass the Island, enhancing the existing and introducing alternative (marine and air) means of access to the Island and ameliorating its internal circulation; improvement of land use planning within the Island, and; development of a vulnerability plan for Mombasa including a comprehensive geological survey of the Island and integrating Vulnerability Assessment within all Environmental Impact Assessments for development projects in Mombasa.

The study identified the following areas for further research; first, the Cost Benefit Analysis of disaster preparedness planning as a tool for trade-offs in decision making; second, the psychological responses during and in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe which seem to disorient human actions to exacerbate disasters: third, a comparative analysis of the cumulative economic losses of 'normal7 small hazards to local economies in comparison to large disasters.

Finally, this study, aimed to stimulate interest towards the following three general goals: first, the creation of awareness of safety issues among planners and their role in facilitating public safety in urban areas; second, the articulation of guidelines for improving existing urban environments and planning new ones with safety in mind, and third, as a contribution to the development of a body of knowledge to ensure urban safety ideas are improved and expanded.

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