Urbanisation has undoubtedly augmented the pace of economic development and prosperity in many nations. However, industrialization led urbanisation has caused multiple environmental stresses. These are compounded by the negative impacts of climate change, natural and man-made disasters. The major problem is: cities are not ready to face these issues in the absence of adequate knowledge, technological tools, money and skilled human resources to build urban resilience. Building city resilience has now become a pre-requisite for achieving sustainable development of cities everywhere
Cities and communities in India are going to face unprecedented challenges as sea level further rises and the negative impacts of climate change start inflicting stresses on people and industries in urban habitats. The unplanned development and population sprawl in disaster-prone areas are increasing people’s vulnerability. When the poor move to cities, many times they cannot afford available formal housing facilities thus they opt for informal and unregularised settlements which are often situated in areas highly vulnerable to climate and disaster risks. The accidents causing loss to human lives and property at such places are regular.
Urbanization will intensify the concentration of people thus making more people vulnerable to impending disasters. Cities need to be ready to find out solutions to these problems to ensure a safe and secure future for all citizens. Making cities disaster ready is like buying medical insurance as the manner in which climate change-induced disasters are manifesting themselves on human lives and communities, a single mega-disaster can wipe out decades of hard-won development gains, as happened with the 2015 Nepal earthquake. Many countries around the globe have lifted hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty but such reoccurrence of disaster hitting the poor will trap them in a vicious cycle of poverty forever and the efforts of governments over the years could go down the drain.
City leaders and policymakers will have to look beyond the response and focus on capacitating officials and citizens at the local level in addition to creating a framework for the safer built environment that is in sync with local environmental conditions. There is no denying that cities lack financial and technical resources at the local level which is holding municipalities back in addressing resilience component.
According to a report by World Bank, the global need for urban infrastructure investment amounts to over $4.5 trillion per year, of which an estimated premium of 9%-27% is required to make this infrastructure low-emissions and climate resilient. Many developing nations face another challenge that is the quality of their built environment.
It indicates that cities need to rethink their approach to address resilience. The higher tiers of governments, state and the central government in the case of India, need to complement their efforts through financial aid and empowering corporations through requisite capacity building programs.
It is no news that the world is becoming hotter by the day. The increasing temperature is inflicting serious damage to the environment and impacting the lives of people living in disaster-prone areas. Municipal Corporations have a narrowing window of opportunity to make the right choices and ameliorate risks. The key reasons include the lack of technical and financial resources, non-availability of the skilled workforce, and poor access to knowledge tools. Empowering local governments is essential for improving the resilience of city governments in dealing with disaster, mitigate risks and expedite the post-disaster recovery process.
Central and state governments have a key leadership role to help provide the tools, funding, resources, and policy frameworks that can guide more resilient choices in urban operations and assist urban local bodies in adopting technologies and policies for strengthening the resilience of their respective cities.
Local bodies are also facing constraints in accessing funds to tackle climate change. In this area, urban local bodies will have to go the extra mile and collaborate with international organisation and agencies having expertise, tools and resources.
Cities need to ensure that the new infrastructure that is coming up is safe not only from structural collapse and fire but also from acute disaster risks. There are a few initiatives at the international level to address this challenge but there is hardly any concerted effort at the local level. There are no effective building regulatory frameworks at the municipality level. Most of the cities are only equipped with tools and knowledge to initiate post-disaster responses. There is an urgent need to shift focus from managing disaster response to reducing underlying risks
Regulation and resilience
Most Indian cities do not have any concrete policy frameworks that suit their local conditions to address issues related to enhancing urban resilience. Since people will continue to move to cities in search of better economic opportunities, the cities will need to create housing facilities and other infrastructure facilities for them. Several reports suggest that more than one billion new dwelling units will be constructed by 2050 and, in low- and middle-income countries alone, building stocks will double in the next 15-20 years. Most of this requirement will come from the cities which have a weak capacity to build resilient infrastructure.
It is also important to note that more than 80 per cent of lives lost in disasters came from low and middle-income countries. The studies suggest that the impact of disasters on GDP in poorly prepared countries is 20 times higher than in countries which have some kind of resilience programs for promoting a safe built environment. It is important to note that India loses 1.2 million houses to natural disasters every year.
Cities need to ensure the new infrastructure that is coming up is safe not only from structural collapse and fire but also from acute disaster risks. There are a few initiatives at the international level to address this challenge but there is hardly any concerted effort at the local level. There are no effective building regulatory frameworks at the municipality level. Most of the cities are only equipped with tools and knowledge to initiate post-disaster responses. There is an urgent need to shift focus from managing disaster response to reducing underlying risks.
By implementing building regulation and supporting active compliance, the proposed program can serve to accelerate the application of current scientific and engineering knowledge to a safer built environment. To this end, the program seeks to leverage good-practice in building code regulation into effective chronic and disaster risk reduction strategies, thereby setting developing countries on track toward effective reform and long-term resilience.
Recently, the city of Toronto launched its first resilience strategy that presents a vision to help residents deal with shocks, stresses and the unexpected. The city had received several suggestions from its residents for formulating the resilience strategy and the city government has acknowledged them and even published a few postcards in the report.
Toronto is the second Canadian city after Montreal to release such a strategy. Montreal released its strategy nearly a year ago. Elliott Cappell, Chief Resilience Officer of Toronto addressed the media during the release and said, “the city is becoming “hotter, wetter, wilder,” inequality is growing in Toronto and the city needs a plan. Our growing risks and vulnerabilities are interconnected, as those who are most vulnerable, in many cases, are also at the highest risk.
This resilience strategy helps us to address these urgent and growing challenges.” This is true for any other city in the world.