By Rommel C. Banlaoi
The Makati bus bombing on January 25 that killed 5 persons and injured 13 others has brought to the fore the issue of urban safety and security in the country.
According to the 2007 Global Report on Human Settlements produced by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, urban safety and security have become a serious concern in the world. The Philippines has a total of 138 cities, 33 of which are classified as “highly urbanized”. Out of 1,495 municipalities in the Philippines, 23 are considered “urban municipalities” being classified first class. Are these urban areas safe and secure?
The theme of ‘urban safety and security’ encompasses a wide range of concerns and issues, which “range from basic needs, such as food, health and shelter, through protection from crime and the impacts of technological and natural hazards, to collective security needs, such as protection from urban terrorism.” Thus, urban safety and security can be placed within the broader issue of human security.
However, the Report laments that “only a few of these concerns and issues have been, and can be, addressed from a human settlements perspective.” It underscores that urban safety and security can be effectively addressed “mainly through appropriate urban policies, planning, design and governance.” Thus, a sound urban planning is needed to uphold effective governance in the urban areas.
According to the Report, there are three major threats confronting major cities of the world: a) Crime and violence, b) Insecurity of tenure and force eviction; and, c) Natural and human-made disasters.
Crime and violence can be found anywhere and are pervasive in both developed and developing nations. But empirical evidences show that crime and violence are “typically more severe in urban areas and are confounded by their rapid growth.” Robberies, murders, homicides, physical abuses and terrorist attacks, among others are common sources of crimes and violence in the urban areas. Addressing crime and violence needs appropriate local, national and international interventions. But at the local level, reducing crimes and violence requires effective urban planning, design and governance.
Security of tenure and forced evictions have also become very serious concerns in the urban areas. These concerns are manifested through rising problems of informal settlements and proliferation of slums. Public infrastructure developments, urban beautification projects and even holding of international events are common sources of forced evictions. Armed conflicts, civil strife and even natural and human-made disasters are also major factors threatening the security of tenure of affected people. According to the 2007 Global Report on Human Settlement, “the most important component of improving the security of tenure in informal settlements and slums is that governments at all levels should accept the residents of such settlements as equal citizens, with the same rights and responsibilities as other urban dwellers.”
Finally, natural and human-made disasters also affect urban safety and security. More developed urban areas such as megacities face more risks from natural and human-made disasters. To enhance urban safety and security amidst natural and human-made disasters, “land-use planning is a particularly effective instrument that city authorities can employ to reduce disaster risk by regulating the expansion of human settlements and infrastructure.”
The three major threats to urban safety and security are instructive of the gargantuan challenges facing cities and urban municipalities today. It is argued that “safer and more secure cities can only be realized through comprehensive initiatives that, at the same time, incorporate aspects of institutional and policy development, and international and national law, as well as the potential contributions of all relevant stakeholders, including civil society actors.”
Do the major cities and urban municipalities in the Philippines have urban safety and security plan?
Now is the time to assess them!