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By : Christine Wamsler

Imagine, for a moment, human settlements that are organised to overcome and withstand earthquakes or hurricanes, infrastructures that reinforce themselves and seal cracks of their own accord, or buildings that elevate themselves during flooding. Imagine settlements that provide information systems that warn when a tsunami is approaching, or when houses are overburdened and may be liable to imminent collapse due to landslides, fire or other hazards. Such human settlements would secure the livelihood of all their inhabitants, empowering them to cope and deal with natural threats. As with a living organism, these settlements would adjust their social, political and economic systems in such a rapid way that they can account for damage, effect repairs, learn from experience, and retire - urbanely - once they can no longer fulfil their protective and defensible function.
Such ideas may be far fetched. However, this special issue on "Managing Urban Disasters" shows that the integration of an appropriate risk reduction strategy in the fields of housing and settlement planning is possible and is a first step to convert such a utopian situation into an effective and realistic vision. In fact, such integrated urban housing and planning can prevent and mitigate disasters or, at least, minimise its effects. Nevertheless, "disaster risk reduction"1 is still a relatively new area of knowledge. It is slowly developing and undergoing a multifaceted process of institutionalisation, especially within our professional disciplines. Those working in housing and settlement planning far too often think about risk reduction in a purely physical way, ensnaring themselves in physical/constructive (high-)tech discussions and discourses, that are seldom of relevance to the approximately one billion poor residing in precarious and dangerous living conditions

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