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Localise strategies to build climate resilience

The decision to arbitrarily open green belts for construction in Shimla is another recipe for disaster. The identification of green belts is flawed.

Localise strategies to build climate resilience

Unseemly hurry: The Shimla Development Plan case is already pending in the Supreme Court. PTI



Tikender Singh Panwar & Sandeep Chachra

Tikender Singh Panwar former deputy mayor of Shimla and Sandeep Chachra Executive Director, ActionAid India

Fighting inequality for a resilient future — this is the 2023 theme of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, which falls today. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) complements the Paris Agreement on climate change, with both frameworks interlinked for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, the International Day will explore the reciprocal relationship between disasters and inequality.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has highlighted two major zones in the Indian subcontinent which are considered to be the most vulnerable to climate-induced disasters — the Indian Himalayan Range (IHR) and coastal India. The recent disasters in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim are just a pointer to what the IPCC is emphasising on. An honest observation would be that we are just not prepared for the disasters in the offing. The blind race, particularly in the IHR, for widening of roads and construction of four-lane highways, cutting the mountains at an angle of 90 degrees, has shown how perilous this path is.

The decision to arbitrarily open green belts for construction in Shimla is another recipe for disaster. The identification of green belts in itself is flawed. There are patches which for no reason are in the green belt, whereas there are large tracts of forests that continue to remain in the open. There has to be a thorough review of the land use nomenclature in Shimla, based on solid geological foundations, and the zones should be created accordingly.

Moreover, the Shimla Development Plan case is already pending in the Supreme Court and allowing construction in green belts runs contrary to the basics of jurisprudence.

A comprehensive zoning of the Himalayan region is required before taking such important decisions. This approach will help reduce vulnerabilities and mitigate the compounded disaster risk.

In the past, efforts to reduce disaster risk focused on mitigating risks to both assets and human lives. National, state and local governments will have to work in tandem for enhancing adaptive capacities to ensure that the impact of climate-induced disasters is reduced.

The anthropogenic nature of climate change is here to stay and affects all of us. The key to tackling such a situation is adaptability. We must ask ourselves: Are we doing enough to adapt ourselves, our institutions, government bodies, private capital investments and infrastructure development to the changing environment with climate-resilient strategies? Unfortunately, the answer is an emphatic no.

The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) reports that the average global loss due to climate-induced disasters was $850 billion, which is roughly 14 per cent of 2021-22 gross domestic product (GDP). Interestingly, of the total, 67 per cent assets are concentrated in the developed world; middle- and low-income countries’ asset concentration is 25 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively. Despite this, greater loss occurs in the developing and least-developed countries. Why? Obviously, the Global North is better equipped and has invested heavily in adaptive strategies. The relative risk of the developing world is very high; for the developed world, the average annual loss is 0.1 per cent, whereas it is 0.4 per cent in the developing world.

There are nine infrastructure sectors identified for nations to invest for achieving SDGs and building resilient strategies. The total investment sought is around $9.3 trillion annually for the developed world and $2.9 trillion for the developing world. Where is this money going to come from? There has to be a rethinking of the global financial architecture and also at the national level.

Another important consideration while developing infrastructure is to identify the sectors that are most vulnerable to disasters. It is estimated that of the annual average infrastructure loss, nearly 30 per cent is associated with earthquakes and 70 per cent is climate-related. Hence, climate-related disasters are bound to worsen the situation. The estimated risks, almost 80 per cent, are concentrated in power, transport and telecom sectors, where asset building only accounts for 15-30 per cent of the total expenditure, and nearly 70-85 per cent is attributable to operations, maintenance and management. The type of infrastructure being constructed should be climate-resilient and adaptive.

It is crucial to re-evaluate building typologies and focus on developing climate-resilient designs. The blatant use of reinforced cement, concrete and steel does not qualify for strong construction material in the mountains.

Assessing vulnerabilities is the first step in reducing disaster risk. This has to be complemented by capacity-building efforts and active participation of the people. These capacities should be proactive rather than reactive. Why can’t communities be built with a focus on safe, reliable and resilient infrastructure? For that to happen, the current governance architecture has to be adapted too. There has to be empowerment of the people, communities and civil society groups who have been at the forefront of red-flagging alarming issues. They should be made part of a new governance model. Two constitutional amendments, 73rd and 74th, dealing with rural and urban governance, respectively, must be implemented in letter and spirit.

The development model must identify key steps: no infrastructure construction in floodplains; the mapping of water channels and a prohibition on construction in river basins, gorges, ravines and rivulets; and identifying the sliding zones and dissuading activities in such zones. It is also crucial to strengthen early warning systems and ensuring speedy evacuation of the people.

Climate-induced disasters are imminent. The choice is ours — adapt and secure our future or become rigid and perish. 

#Climate change #Environment #Shimla


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