July 11, 2018 / 10:23 PM / in 4 months

Lack of data, definitions dent global drive to strengthen cities - U.N

UNITED NATIONS (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A global drive to make cities safer and more resilient to disasters is being hampered as many countries are unable to gather local data, monitor progress or even clearly define ‘city’ and ‘urban,’ a United Nations report said on Wednesday.

Designing and implementing consistent measurements is vital before urban woes such as growing slums and worsening air pollution can be tackled, according to the report by UN-Habitat, the U.N agency for urban development and human settlements.

Making cities inclusive, safe and resilient is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted unanimously by the 193 U.N. member-nations in 2015.

The SDGs are considered a concerted effort to conquer poverty, inequality and other international woes by 2030.

By then, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities, and about 700 cities globally will have populations of more than 1 million, according to U.N. figures.

To make cities safer, the United Nations calls for meeting targets including promoting affordable housing and disaster resilience, improving slums and reducing environmental impacts.

But those targets require an array of monitoring frameworks, adequate data collection and even deciding what constitutes “urban” and “city” to measure progress, the U.N. report said.

“Whereas there are ‘data rich and ready to go’ countries with strong systems and institutions, ... there are others lacking in basic systems and conditions,” the report said.

Many countries do not have the capacity to coordinate local monitoring when it comes to improving their cities, it said.

“Even though we have data at the country level, we still have lack of data at the city level,” Maimunah Mohd Sharif, U.N. Under-Secretary-General and executive director of UN-Habitat, said at a news briefing.

For example, reducing disaster risk in cities requires collecting local data on hazardous events, but accessing such data in a timely manner “is a major concern,” the report said.

Significant gaps exist in worldwide efforts to monitor urban air pollution, while only a third of U.N. member nations have data on city elections and public hearings which help to monitor governance, according to the UN-Habitat report.

Among the major urban issues to be tackled in cities around the world are increasingly unaffordable housing, rising air pollution, and unregulated urban sprawl, Sharif said.

Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Kieran Guilbert Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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