Cities across the world, due to their rapid population growth and large-scale developmental and economic investments, are at high risk from the impacts of climate change. According to the United Nations World Urbanisation Prospects 2011 report, the population living in urban areas is projected to increase from 3.6 billion currently to 6.3 billion by 2050. Cities need to start thinking about addressing these impacts which will become more evident in the coming times given their high vulnerability.
Indian cities are facing multiple challenges: rapid urbanisation, inadequate urban services and infrastructure, migration, ecological degradation etc. which makes them all the more vulnerable in an uncertain and changing climate regime. In India, 53 cities have populations of more than one million people. By the 2060s, it is expected that there will be approximately 500 million additional people in an estimated 7,000- 12,000 urban settlements in India.
Though facing serious issues, cities can offer solution by evolving climate resilience strategies which can go a long in reducing their vulnerability and ensuring sustainable development. In view of this, it is crucial to develop urban climate resilience plans that can prepare cities to face the consequences of extreme weather events like urban flooding, public health crisis and the like. Understanding the urgency, The Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), part of a $59 million, 7-year climate change resilience initiative supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, was launched in 2009 to create climate resilience strategies and action models in 10 cities across four countries in Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and India).
Experiences derived from 23 ACCCRN projects have shown that basic services, including water (management, supply, and resources), solid waste management, transport and other infrastructure, energy, health and education are among the most critical areas of intervention when seeking to build or strengthen the resilience of cities. It is imperative that such sectoral interventions become part and parcel of city resilience strategies and that they are integrated into regulatory and institutional mechanisms. Capacity building of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to raise awareness of the importance of building resilience and identifying entry points in existing policies for introducing urban adaptation is a key to securing a win-win strategy.
Gorakhpur is one of the three cities in India (the other two being Surat, Indore) involved with ACCCRN. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) used the resilience strategy document of Gorakhpur as a baseline to develop a resilience mainstreaming strategy for the city which could be used by the authorities and integrated into their overall urban planning mechanism. A review of policies and programmes was conducted for each sector in order to recommend specific actions so that authorities could be identified and held accountable for implementation. Final recommendations were presented to the municipal authority.
Given the inadequacy of our cities to face up to the increasing challenges posed by climate change, it is imperative that urban authorities across India and beyond look to the experiences of initiatives such as ACCCRN and develop a shared vision to embed resilience strategies into the regular urban planning framework of our cities. Failure to do so could leave our cities exposed to ever greater problems such as waterlogging in urban areas with dysfunctional sewage systems, housing for vulnerable communities that cannot withstand the shocks of climate change impacts, a public health system that cannot match up to a disaster crisis, and mismanagement of precious water resources to name a few.
Divya Sharma is a Fellow from Sustainable Habitat Division at TERI, which is joining hands with the Rockefeller Foundation on January 29 to host an International Workshop on "Resilient Cities - Experiences from ACCCRN in Asia and Beyond", under the aegis of the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS)-TERI's flagship international annual event.