The scientific community attributes to climate change and unplanned urbanisation the following natural disturbances: The Mumbai floods of 2005; the Leh cloudburst in 2010; the Uttarakhand flash floods of 2013; the Kashmir floods of 2014; cyclone Phailin of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in 2013; and the Chennai urban floods of 2015.
The South Asian Region (SAR) — comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, and accounting for one-sixth of the world’s population — is exposed to regional and global climatic threats, which are a challenge for sustainable economic development.
It is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, with 74 per cent of all natural calamities being hydro-meteorological ones, which arise out of the impact of the monsoon and cause maximum damage. The climate here is governed by the Himalayas and the oceanic areas in the south. Thus, it is characterised profoundly by the northwest and northeast monsoons.
Climate change, encompassing mostly hydro-meteorological events, has been observed to manifest in the form of increases in the frequency and intensity of floods, tropical cyclones, and heatwaves and drought, besides the degradation of ecosystems, reduced availability of food and drinking water, and other impacts on the livelihoods of communities.
The global temperature since 1860 is observed to have risen by 0.4 centigrade. Besides, there have been increases in the ocean temperature by 0.10 centigrade (0-700 metre depth) during 1961-2003 (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007). The temperature rise is attributed to anthropogenic reasons, resulting from carbon emissions and urbanisation.
In South Asia, demand-driven urbanisation poses problems of insufficient and inefficient sewerage and waste management, which are polluters and causes of greenhouse gas emissions. It creates a shortage of potable water, besides creating health risks due to respiratory and fecal-oral factors, particularly for people in slums.
The institutional structure of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) over a period of time has transformed from a single-domain to a multi-stakeholder set-up. The management of Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), evolving from diplomacy to the government’s domain-specific development agenda, has brought in several pieces of legislation to regulate the elements responsible for climate change, besides building several Action Plans and Missions for its mitigation and adaptation.
Urban local bodies (ULBs), on the other hand, though they exist in different forms, ironically, get a raw deal from states and fail to provide even basic amenities to its people for want of enough resources to do the work assigned to them by laws. The governing structure of ULBs continues to be weak. States view them as instruments of sharing power and, therefore, make no effort to strengthen them lest public representatives on their boards become politically strong enough to challenge those on the governing board of the state concerned.
As such, there is a need for a strategy to meet the emerging demands for basic amenities and risk-resilient urban infrastructure, keeping climatic change in mind. Urban planners need to account for the new demands due to settlements coming up in different geographical locations on account of migration and give them appropriate treatment to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Based on the observations made on the deficits in governing and management structures of DRR, CCA, and urbanisation, the measures thus suggested are mapping vulnerability and risk profiles and developing the mechanism for data management for planners and policymakers to shift from the existing paradigm of response only when disasters happen to all facets of disasters.
Urbanisation should be developed as a concerted supply-driven activity which in the long term would dissuade and curb the growth of slums, and help in solid waste management and the growth of energy-intensive buildings and transport systems, etc. Climatic Smart Urban Planning should be encouraged by way of developing the “climate smart” (a word coined in the IPCC report) infrastructure, which emphasises combining pro-poor development and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Adopting Multi-Risk Resilient Structural Designs is key for countries of South Asia, besides integrating Climate Change & Urban Adaptation with the planning process by giving importance to housing, developing flood-resilient urban drainage systems, ensuring sustainable energy supplies to urban areas, building climate-resilient transport systems, etc.
At last, the concept of urbanisation has come to be based on a dynamic theory of modernising the infrastructure as a whole, keeping in mind population growth and climate change. And there is no reason to suppose that inferences of the present study in view of technological changes and practices are the last word!
The author is former chairman of the Airports Authority of India. He had also served as joint secretary, disaster management