6.5 Land use planning and building regulation
Conventional approaches to land use planning and implementation have failed. Affected communities must be allowed to participate in decision-making in planning, which drives disaster risk, particularly in urban areas.
The global population living in informal settlements is currently estimated at approximately 1 billion people, many of whom live in hazard-prone areas, and this population is growing at a rate of 40 million people per year (IFRC, 2010
). How land is used in cities and how buildings, infrastructure and networks are designed and constructed all influence exposure to physical hazards and the rise or fall of a country’s stock of risk. As such, land use planning and building regulation should be included in any list of development instruments that can be adapted for DRM.
Available at http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/wdr2010/index.asp.
Decisions on land use and building can push up risk significantly, especially in cities where much of the population can find accommodation only in informal settlements and where there is little willingness or capacity of local governments to manage city expansion and land use change in the public interest. Once investments in infrastructure, housing and other facilities have been made in hazardous locations, the risk is locked in place for decades or more, and once in place, it is far more expensive to correct it than it would have been to avoid its creation in the first place.
Unfortunately, land use planning and management in low- and middle-income countries have excluded a large proportion of the urban population from legal land and housing markets (Dodman, 2010
), thus driving an increase in urban risk. Given their low status and lack of secure tenure, households in informal settlements are generally excluded from public investments in vital risk-reducing infrastructure and services.
Most local governments in low- and middle-income countries have no functioning land use planning or management system or have lost control over managing land use changes. Land set aside for public use is not protected, cities expand without provision for infrastructure, and powerful vested interests are engaged in land speculation and profitable but unauthorized land use changes (Satterthwaite, 2011
). Many countries have established national policies for land use planning and have passed legislation assigning specific responsibilities to local governments, but many others either lack the technical capacities to plan their territory or fail to take hazards into account. For example, in Costa Rica, a small middle-income country with relatively strong governance capacities, only 20 of 89 municipalities had their own land use plans as of 2009 (Berti and Ferrufino, 2009
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). Although legislation exists to include risk considerations in land use planning, it is not mandatory. As a consequence, much development in hazard-prone sites has been legally authorized.
Available at http://22.214.171.124/db/libcat/edocs/ORDEN-TERRITORIAL.pdf.
Land use laws and regulations that prohibit or limit development in hazard-prone areas are often misused to exclude low-income households from well-located land (Box 6.8). At the same time, low-income households may be more likely to secure tenure in hazard-prone areas that should never have been occupied for housing. In other cases, regulations exist but have been bypassed to facilitate land speculation in well-located but hazardous areas.
Box 6.8 The unintended consequences of hazard zoning
In 1957, as a consequence of severe floods, the state of Buenos Aires, Argentina, enacted a strict law on the Conservation of Natural Drainage. The law prohibited construction within 50 metres of rivers, streams and canals and 100 metres around the perimeter of lagoons, and also prevented urban development in all areas below 3.75 metres above sea level. A 1977 law reinforced the 1957 law by prescribing that houses must be built above a certain elevation to obtain planning approval. It also established a minimum plot size of 300 square metres and provided specific regulations for urban infrastructure projects. Both laws prevent the construction of new flood risk, and their detailed specifications facilitate local implementation. However, the laws are inflexible in that they do not consider alternative solutions to flood risk reduction, and after they were introduced, the cost of urban land increased, excluding many low-income households from the land market.
By contrast, a recently amended Turkish law from 1985 requires that land use plans are informed by hazard assessments and need to address risks, without the sort of detailed specification required in Buenos Aires. This approach offers flexibility in factoring risks into planning and construction, and takes into account local-level social and environmental conditions and needs. On the downside, the flexibility can mean that municipal decisions could allow development in unsafe areas or at higher densities than the law intended.
Even when it is implemented, land use planning may be ineffective for DRM when a given risk crosses municipal or regional boundaries. National-level planning tends to be based on standards that are not designed to address specific local problems. Local planning, on the other hand, has no influence over risks that may be constructed outside of its jurisdiction. However, intermediate-level planning frameworks that could fill the gap are often missing. In the Oshana region of Namibia, for example, the lack of regional-level planning is an obstacle to flood risk reduction. The towns of Ondangwa and Oshakati each have their own flood risk management plans, but each is designed solely to reduce risks in its own locality. A proposed channel to manage floodwaters in Ondangwa drains directly into a village south of the town and worsens flooding there (Johnson, 2011
Critically, planning is often disconnected from realities on the ground. Long, slow planning cycles are inconsistent with the rapid growth of many cities in low- and middle-income countries. Planning cycles of three years or more mean that plans, when adopted, may have already been overtaken by development. And without enforcement, even the best land use planning cannot change land use practices. Balancing the needs of low-income groups for well-located land with disaster-reduction objectives remains a difficult task (Box 6.9).
Box 6.9 The ring road settlement in Cuttack, India
A settlement of approximately 1,200 households in Cuttack, in the Indian state of Orissa, is located on a flood-prone river bank with no protection against river level rises in heavy monsoon years when the area can be flooded for 10–15 days. Plans to relocate the settlement to an alternative site 20 km away, have been opposed by residents who cope with the flooding by moving their possessions onto the ring road when the waters rise. A more recent offer by the municipality to relocate the settlement to a site 7 km away is still awaiting approval by the national government, but for many inhabitants of this settlement, the housing offered is inappropriate (small apartments in five-storey blocks) and the move would increase commuting costs. Despite the risks, inhabitants would prefer to stay in their current location and cope with flooding when it happens. Meanwhile, the municipality is constrained in what it can offer the community for relocation. Moreover, this is just one of over 300 informal settlements in the city, all of which are also seeking infrastructure, services, tenure or alternative sites.
The design and enforcement of building legislation, regulation, codes and standards5 presents similar issues, because requirements are often inappropriate for national and local conditions (Johnson, 2011
). In post-disaster contexts in particular, overly complicated codes and standards that cannot be maintained over time are often introduced. The codes can be prohibitively costly for low-income households, ultimately increasing the incidence of unregulated construction. Inhabitants of informal settlements in particular find it impossible to implement codes. In other contexts, authorities may use the enforcement of strict codes as a pretext for evicting low-income households.
). In the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka, the many families living in one-room dwellings suspended over water and with no outside space cannot hope to meet the Bangladesh National Building Code. The code defines a minimum housing size of about three times the average dwelling size in informal settlements such as Mohammadpur (Figure 6.2) and does not allow for incremental upgrading.
Even where appropriate, building codes are often inadequately supported by legislation and enforcement. Before the 2001 earthquake in Bhuj, in the Indian state of Gujarat, compliance with existing codes was not required by law except for government buildings. In Turkey, only after the devastating 1999 earthquake did the supervision of building standards become a legal requirement. However, even when building control becomes mandatory, local governments often do not have the required expertise or manpower to monitor and enforce the regulations (Johnson, 2011
Overly lengthy processes to obtain building permits can be another serious impediment to adherence to building codes in lowincome areas. Obtaining building permits in the historical centre of Lima, for example, requires an average of 222 working days under optimal conditions (Johnson, 2011
). Delays and difficulties in the processing of land and housing permits in the Philippines mean that inhabitants of informal settlements and communities living in vulnerable locations may have no choice but to remain outside formal processes. Recent studies recommend that an important step towards helping communities to adopt building codes is to develop fast-track and one-step processes that are simple to follow and quickly realized (Rayos Co, 2010
). For example, familiarizing the local masons who actually build housing in informal settlements with simple but effective techniques for improving building safety (Aysan and Davis, 1992
Available at http://pubs.iied.org/10587IIED.html?c=urbandev.
), or adopting simple but achievable standards (Box 6.10), can be far more effective than adopting complex but ultimately unenforceable codes and regulations.
Box 6.10 Pragmatic approaches to safety: ensuring compliance through appropriate standards
The 2001 earthquake in Bhuj, in the Indian state of Gujurat, caused the collapse of both traditional dwellings built with low-strength masonry, and modern, reinforced concrete buildings. Destruction of buildings was the major cause of death and damage. India had a long-established seismic code, first published in 1962 and periodically updated. Before the 2001 earthquake, however, applying the seismic code to private building construction was left to the discretion of owner, builder or engineer (but was compulsory for public buildings). Unsurprisingly, most of the private buildings did not conform to the code. Following the earthquake, compliance with the code has become mandatory in areas with the highest seismic risk.
However, the two worst-affected municipalities, Bhuj and Anjar, simplified the rules for reconstruction, prohibiting all construction higher than two stories (Spence, 2004
). In the long term, this kind of standard may not be realistic given required urban densities, but it does illustrate the point that simple and achievable standards may be better at reducing risk than those that are too complex to be implemented properly.
Innovations in local governance from around the world are showing that a new approach to planning and urban development is possible when participation from citizens, community organizations and other civil society groups is supported by a new generation of mayors and civil servants. There are now many examples of low-income communities negotiating reasonably safe and well-located land, adapting rigid zoning and building standards to local needs and possibilities, upgrading vulnerable settlements in ways that reduce risks, and participating in planning and budgeting processes (Bicknell et al., 2009
; UNISDR, 2009
; Satterthwaite, 2011
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). The governance arrangements needed to underpin such approaches are discussed further in Chapter 7.
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These practices certainly contribute to reducing risks, but they also have much wider benefits, from planned urban development, enhanced citizenship and social cohesion, and greater investment. In this way, building and planning regulations can drive DRM instead of impeding it (Table 6.3).
5 Whereas the difference between statutory building regulations and legislation on the one hand, and supporting building codes and technical standards on the other, is an important one, the overall term ‘building codes’ will be used in this report to cover both technical and functional standards and control.
GAR 2011 Contributing PapersArnold, M. and Fuente, A. de la. 2010. Conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico: Progresa - oportunidades. [View]
Campos Garcia, A. and Narváez Marulanda, L. 2011. Study of implementation of strategies for incorporating risk management criteria for public investment in Latin America. Prepared by Florida International University. [View]
Daikoku, L. 2010. Citizens for clean air, New York. Case study prepared for the ADRRN. [View]
Fernandez, A,. Jadotte, E. and Jahnsen, J. 2011. Addressing disaster risk through conditional cash transfer and temporary employment programs in Latin America and the Caribbean. Prepared by UNDP for GAR 11. [View]
Krishnamurty, J. 2011. Employment policies and disaster risk reduction. [View]
Okazaki, K. 2010. Incentives for safer buildings. lessons from Japan. [View]
Olhoff, A. 2011. Opportunities for integrating CCA and DRR in development planning and decision-making. examples from sub-Saharan Africa. [View]
PEDDR (Partnership for Environment and Disaster Risk Reduction). 2010. Demonstrating the Role of Ecosystems-based Management for Disaster Risk Reduction. [View]
Rogers, D. Tsirkunov, V. 2011. The costs and benefits of early warning systems. [View]
Satterthwaite, D. 2011. What role for low-income communities in urban areas in disaster risk reduction? . [View]
Williams, G. 2011. The political economy of disaster risk reduction. Study on Disaster Risk Reduction, Decentralization and Political Economy Analysis for UNDP contribution to the GAR11. [View]
Johnson, C. 2011. Creating an enabling environment for reducing disaster risk: Recent experience of regulatory frameworks for land, planning and building. [View]