Coastal cities have been hubs of economic activity for centuries. These cities attracted the rich and the poor alike. The poor came for jobs and the rich for business and living a fulsome life along the seaside. However, climate change is affecting coastal urban settings like never before. It is likely to worsen access to basic urban services and quality of life in coastal regions. Indian coastal cities need to expedite formal processes for enhancing climate resilience and facilitating sustainable urban development for over 200 million people living in 96 coastal districts along the 7517 km long coastal line
Cities are front-runners of development in terms of economic growth, industrial transformation, quality of life, and lifestyle changes. Since time immemorial, urban agglomerations alongside the waterfronts, ocean or rivers, sprawled and prospered quicker than any other human settlement.
Wealth and prosperity of nations has tended to be concentrated in their coastal cities. Among the prominent trading centres of the thirteenth century were the coastal cities of Europe, along the Mediterranean, more notably those of Italy (Venice) and the Netherlands. These profited from the flourishing trade among their neighbours- England, Germany, France and others. The shipping channels served as the vehicle for the slave trade in the fifteenth century. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, man started using inland waterways and rivers, interlinking some of these to promote trade and commerce.
India’s maritime history stretches way back into the BC Era. The sea trade with Europe enabled Indian merchants capture the world demand for Indian spices and textiles. In later years, shipbuilding became a major craft along the vast coastline of the Country. Ships built at the Bombay Dockyard were considered to be vastly superior to those built elsewhere in the world. Kolkata, the erstwhile capital of the British Empire in India is well known for its industrial activity in various spheres including engineering, jute, paper and banking.
At present, 10 out of top 15 global mega cities–Tokyo, Shanghai, Jakarta, Sao Paulo, Karachi, Mumbai, New York City, Lagos, and Manila–are coastal cities. Even in India, three out of four traditionally termed ‘metro cities’, except Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata are on the coast of the Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal.
Charm of coastal cities
Wealthy people love living on the water’s edge. So says Business Insider India drawing upon the findings of a study based on the US Census Survey 2007-2011. The Study which tried to find out where the richest Americans lived and looked at the concentration of high income households, found that coastal cities were, by far, the most preferred. The vast openness and refreshing breath of the sea seem to attract the well-healed. Even among other economic strata of society, beaches are the most powerful magnets attracting tourists the world over.
Coastal areas are among the most popular ones visited by tourists. The economies of many nations, states and cities are almost entirely dependent on tourism generated revenues. Many countries of the Mediterranean region are examples. Therefore tourism development offers a huge opportunity while at the same time putting onerous responsibilities on local administrators. The high density floating populations presents formidable challenges in areas of sewage management, freshwater supplies and preservation of fragile marine ecosystems. But the upsides are many. Contribution to government revenues in the form of direct and indirect taxes, foreign exchange generation, and local employment are the more visible ones. Increased social, cultural and traditional engagement between peoples of various regions and the resulting harmony among communities are less noticed benefits.
Coastal cities and climate change
In the times when the central government is focusing on rejuvenation of cities, urban development in coastal regions is of paramount importance. In view of the negative impacts of climate change and sea level rise, it is necessary to prepare coastal cities for climate change adaptation and devise solutions to mitigate its negative impacts. In the last 270 years, 21 of the 23 major cyclones with casualty figures of about 10,000 lives or more worldwide occurred mostly in India and Bangladesh, over the area surrounding the Indian subcontinent.
Enhanced sea level rise and storm surges are affecting essential urban infrastructure, property, ecosystems, and inhabitants. If the urban areas are not prepared adequately then the situation can go out of hand. The floods in Mumbai in 2005 due to unprecedented rains is a case in point. Apart from the immediate dangers of the floods, there were other related impacts that further complicated the situation and exacerbated the effects of the floods. The city’s storm-water and sewer systems collapsed, as the infrastructure was inadequate for the heavy loads experienced. Because of the drainage system failure, much of the city was left waterlogged, and the system was unable to pump out the large amounts of water that left much of the city under water for days.
“A diagnosis of the malaise within urban governance institutions is necessary. A political framework for long-range urban infrastructure development and risk unbundling will need to be constructed to tackle the negative impacts of climate change”
Aromar Revi, Director, Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS)
Aromar Revi, Director, Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) says in his report that a diagnosis of the malaise within urban governance institutions in a city like Mumbai is a necessary condition before a concrete set of solutions can be identified. He added that a political framework for long-range urban infrastructure development and risk unbundling will need to be constructed to tackle the negative impacts of climate change.
According to the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels in India are expected to rise at the rate of 2.4 mm a year. With this pace, it is expected that the total increase will be 38 cm by 2050; displacing tens of thousands of people. For nearly 25 per cent of India’s population living along the coast, global warming is a question of survival. Adaptation plans and mitigation techniques should be at the centre of policy making and planning process. It is to be noted that the major reason of sea level rise is the significant increase in temperature of sea water and melting of glaciers. More than 90 per cent of the energy accumulating in the climate system between 1971 and 2010 has occurred in the ocean. That in turn has resulted in warming of water and its expansion.
The situation is not different in other coastal regions. A new study by the World Bank pinpoints cities around the world that will be most at risk and finds the costs of flood damage to large coastal cities globally could rise to USD one trillion a year if cities don’t take steps to adapt. It also warns that some of the cities where flood risk will increase the most in the coming years are not the cities where the risk is particularly high today.
“India’s coastal cities are particularly vulnerable on account of sea level rise as an impact of climate change, as well as the increase in frequency and intensity of climate related extreme events which in recent years have caused substantial damage to life and property”
Prabir Senupta, Director (Knowledge Management), TERI
Recipe for resilience
Climate change is predicted to result in increases in mean sea level, as well as possible increases in the frequency and intensity of coastal surges and cyclones that already cause significant damage to coastal populations. Coastal regions in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have witnessed such natural calamities in last two decades. These predicted changes threaten life, livelihoods and infrastructure. Therefore, policy making needs to take account of both physical measures to reduce impacts (such as sea walls) as well as policy measures such as disaster preparedness efforts to reduce vulnerability.
Indian coastal cities have a poor track record in displaying formal processes for enhancing climate change resilience. The sustainability of coastal cities will depend on how resilient these cities are to climate change. Prabir Senupta, Director, Knowledge Management, TERI, says, “India’s coastal cities are particularly vulnerable on account of sea level rise as an impact of climate change, as well as the increase in frequency and intensity of climate related extreme events which in recent years have caused substantial damage to life and property. However, preparedness can mitigate the adverse effects of cyclone disasters. We must try to prepare ourselves as much as possible in the context of the grim prognosis brought out in the various reports.”
Earth System Science Organization (ESSO)-India Meteorological Department (IMD) has recently conducted a survey on cyclone prone area in the country. Ninety six districts including 72 districts touching the coast and 24 districts not touching the coast, but lying within 100 km from the coast have been classified based on their proneness in terms of frequency of total cyclones and severe cyclones crossing the district; strength of actual/ estimated wind speed and wind strength affecting the district, probable maximum storm surge (PMSS) and daily probable maximum precipitation (PMP) over the district based on data for 1891-2010.
Out of these 96 districts, twelve are very highly prone, forty one are highly prone, thirty are moderately prone and remaining thirteen are less prone. Twelve very highly prone districts include south and north 24 Praganas, Medinipur and Kolkata of West Bengal, Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha, Nellore, Krishna and east Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh and Yanam of Puducherry.
Shagun Mehrotra, Assistant Professor, Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy, explains how urban environment is getting affected because of climate change. “Climate change will exacerbate urban pressures of rapid population growth and sprawl, poverty and pollution. There will also be other knock-on effects because of cities’ concentrated and integrated economic activity, highly complex infrastructure systems and social services, and multi- layered governance.” He adds that there is a good sign that city leaders seem willing and able to take action to protect their cities against these threats and to help make a global difference. In recent years, several high-profile alliances such as the World Mayors Council on Climate Change and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have been forged between the mayors of cities around the world.
The 100 Resilient Cities initiative by The Rockefeller Foundation is also helping cities around the world become more resilient to social, economic, and physical challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. 100 RC provides this assistance through: funding for a Chief Resilience Officer in each of our cities who will lead the resilience efforts; resources for drafting a resilience strategy; access to private sector, public sector, academic, and NGO resilience tools; and membership in a global network of peer cities to share best practices and challenges. In August 2015, Surat Municipal Corporation appointed Kamlesh Yagnik as Chief Resilience Officer (CRO). SMC has become the first Indian city to have such a position to lead city-wide resilience building efforts and help the city prepare for catastrophic events like floods and storms.
“Surat is an example where tripartite cooperation between the government, the private sector and civil society helps to better foster resilience. Businesses have helped greatly in providing finance to overcome the resource gap governments in India have long struggled with “
Kamlesh Yagnik, Chief Resilience Officer, Surat
Yagnik says, “Surat is an example where tripartite cooperation between the government, the private sector and civil society is working for fostering resilience. The city’s public-private partnership model, in particular, has been vital. Businesses have helped greatly in providing finance to overcome the resource gap governments in India have long struggled with. Each property in Surat is now marked with coordinates, which will help in relief and rescue.”
‘Smart’ Port Cities
India has 12 major ports and around 200 non-major ports in 11 coastal states and UTs. The major ports handle approximately 61 per cent of cargo traffic. According to the data available with the Ministry of Shipping, ports in India handle more than 90 per cent of India’s total EXIM trade volume and the current proportion of merchandise trade in GDP is 42 per cent. The government is making efforts to improve the operational efficiency of ports for ease of doing business and focus on economic development of the country. The focus is also on improving basic urban services in coastal cities so that more business opportunities under the umbrella of various government initiatives such as Make in India and the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor can work in tandem for the prosperity of the country. The government is planning to build 12 smart port cities to handle urban challenges efficiently.
“Climate change will exacerbate urban pressures of population growth, poverty and pollution. There will also be other knock-on effects because of cities’ concentrated economic activity, highly complex infrastructure systems and multilayered governance”
Shagun Mehrotra, Assistant Professor, Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy
The increasing trends of urbanization are putting high density clusters at risk in the newly-emerging coastal cities in the country. There is a need to assess the environmental and ecological implications of urban development in coastal areas. Mitigating negative port impacts is essential for the long-term survival of ports and port-cities. Even if ports generate large local economic benefits, building on competitive strengths in services, industrial development or consumer-driven port- related waterfront development, they will not have a sustainable future if they do not mitigate negative impacts related to their development.
As in Vishakhapatnam, learning from the experiences during cyclone ‘Hudhud’, which affected all power and communication lines, the state government has gone in for a massive underground wiring and cabling network. This is to be extended to all coastal towns over the coming years. All the coastal cities, existing and upcoming ones, should engage themselves in a dialogue and should learn from the existing models of development to ensure sustainablity. Several corporates are pitching in to assist the Andhra Pradesh government. Cisco is setting up a skill development centre and providing training through its global talent tracker. The company has also evinced interest in working on disaster management technologies as the state is hit by at least two cyclones every year.