Anna Tibaijuka

Cities and natural disasters | Some hard talk about towns | Intelligent planning and regulation make a huge difference to the number of people who die when disaster strikes, says Anna Tibaijuka, UN-Habitat’s executive director. In 1995 an earthquake in the Japanese city of Kobe killed 6,400 people; in 1999 a quake of similar magnitude in Turkey claimed over 17,000 lives. Corrupt local bureaucracies and slapdash building pushed up the Turkish toll. The Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, which killed at least 230,000 people, would have been a tragedy whatever the level of preparedness; but even when disaster strikes on a titanic scale, there are many factors within human control—a knowledgeable population, a good early-warning system and settlements built with disasters in mind—that can help to minimise the number of casualties.