Opinion Author: Nimish Jha Comments
ASIA: India

India has been ranked third among the top five most disaster-hit countries in 2015. With this year also recorded as the hottest year on record, according to a study by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR).

Fast growing cities are most often located in contexts that are specifically exposed to the threats and are vulnerable to impacts of climate change.

Pollution, vulnerability of extreme weather events, urban poverty, resource production and consumption, are the common issues in the city. Such aspects have serious impact on living conditions and growth of the city.

The amount of loss and damages that these cities are facing is, by all accounts, huge and takes long time to recover.

The weaving industry alone, in the city of Surat, after the 2006 floods, faced loss and damages of INR1.51 million[1]. Similarly, the Chennai floods faced 25,912 crores (3.89 billion USD (Govt. estimates))[2].

The hottest year in India saw more than 2,800 deaths and over Rs 22,000 crore economic damage in the last year alone. 

In 2015 alone, the country faced 19 weather and climate induced disasters. Such events have often resulted in huge loss and damages thereby posing challenges to the country with the adverse impacts being felt especially by vulnerable sections of the society.

Build City’s Capacities

The cities and their institutions could shift towards climate resilient pathways that take into account the climate sensitivity of the cities.

In order to address these, there has been increasing recognition of the need to anchor development priorities strongly with the planning and financing process. This could be achieved very well by the cities by way of their jurisdictions and the powers bestowed upon them constitutionally. The cities could take measures that help in building resilience of the cities.  

The city of Surat, though riddled with many imperfections, has been able to take steps that strengthen their capacities to deal with loss and damages due to climate change[3].

The assessment report of the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in a clear departure from earlier reports, has emphasised this fact by asserting that the city government can play a very important role in responding to climate change. A city, by its sheer size, the amount of people it serves, and the scale of climate change threats it faces, can very effectively counter the adverse impacts. The very nature of unique situation a city faces also creates opportunities for actions.

Take Appropriate Measures

The municipal bodies, which are responsible for the effective functioning of the cities, are appropriately placed to lay down resilient processes by carefully engaging the stakeholders, institutions in both the public and private sectors, and vulnerable sections of society.

These can be achieved very well through their work on land-use planning and the provision of essential services, such as water supply and waste management etc. Taking measures to reduce deficits in the availability of basic services and building infrastructure that is resilient can help in reducing the vulnerabilities to climate change. While discharging its routine functions, the city can integrate the climate change functions into the city systems.

There have often been discussions about the cities being imperfect and facing low levels of technical, fiscal and managerial capacities among the city level institutions which make it difficult for them to effectively manage challenges emerging due to climate change[4]. However, despite these deficiencies, these bodies have been able to showcase that cities can achieve resilience by sheer creativity and the enmeshing of the developmental activities with potential risks of the climate change threats.

The Making Cities Resilient Report (2012) by UNSIDR does highlight these serious concerns and maintains that the cities as different as Pune in India, Kampala in Uganda, and San Francisco in California, USA, despite varying levels of socio-economic development, size and economic bases. These cities have been able to strengthen their capacities and scale down loss and damages regardless of service base lines.

By taking concerted measures to strengthen their resilience and reduce their potential loss and damages, the cities have been able to enhance their “comparative advantage” in economic terms. This gathers significance, especially in the context that cities are the key drivers of economic growth, and attracts lots of capital for the economic growth of the whole country.

Furthermore, the growing economy of the city will add to its economic base. Now, given that resilience and local development goes hand in hand, the city level institution can play a catalytic role very well the in reduction of underlying socio economic drivers of vulnerabilities in the city.


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