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Localise strategies to build climate resilience

Author: Tikender Singh Panwar | Sandeep Chachra
Posted on: Friday, 13th October 2023
Photo: Unseemly hurry: The Shimla Development Plan case is already pending in the Supreme Court. PTI

Localize Adaptation for a Secure Future

Fighting Inequality for a Resilient Future is the United Nations call for observing October 13 as the international day for disaster risk reduction. The Sendai framework on Disaster Risk Reduction(DRR) complements the Paris Agreement on climate change, with both frameworks interlinked to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2023, the International Day will explore the reciprocal relationship between disasters and inequality.

This is interesting and intriguing. Reducing disaster risk in the past qualified risks to assets and human lives. Bringing in this syn between rising inequality and disaster risk reduction brings in hope and scope for a resilient future. National, state and local governments will have to work in tandem for enhancing the adaptive capacities ensuring that the climate induced disasters affect is reduced, if not mitigated completely.

The Situation is Challenging

Over the recent decades the development models adopted by successive governments in India have widened the gap between rich and poor and this has further enhanced inequality, though the situation was quite precarious even in the past.  World Inequality Report highlighted the large disparity in wealth distribution in India, saying that more than 40% of the wealth created in the country from 2012 to 2021 had gone to just 1% of the population while only 3% had trickled down to the bottom 50%. Likewise, India’s top 1% owned more than 40.5% of its total wealth in 2021, whereas in 2022, the number of billionaires in the country increased to 166 from 102 in 2020. This emphatically shows the trajectory of developmental policies that have escalated inequality.

What about vulnerability?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) VI, has highlighted the two major zones in the Indian subcontinent. These two are considered to be most vulnerable from climate induced disasters perspective. These two zones are the Indian Himalayan Range, and the Coastal India. Not that the rest of India is safe, the report highlights that there will be more frequency of heat island effects in central India as well. However, the IHR and coastal India will be the worst affected. What does it mean? The recent disasters witnessed in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and in Sikkim are just a pointer to what the IPCC is emphasizing on.

Further the marginalized communities living in these zones will be further affected and pushed to greater loss of assets and pauperization. The shepherds in the hills are already feeling the impact of climate change. In a study carried out by ActionAid India, the livelihoods of pastoral communities are severely being affected because of the changing environment. Nearly 70% reported loss of livelihood because of extreme weather events. Likewise, the fisherfolk along the coasts are in one amongst the most vulnerable communities. The informal sector working people living in the cities are already hit in terms of their falling income levels, their situation is further going to worsen.

There will be more precipitation in a shorter period of time which will enhance water run-off and thus will be leading to more floods, even unprecedented. Further, extreme weather events that used to occur once in a century in the past, now there will be scores in the coming years. The anthropogenic nature of climate change is here to stay and affect all of us. The only key to such a situation, particularly when we are observing international day of DRR, is adaptability.

We must ask ourselves are we doing enough to adapt ourselves, our institutions, government bodies, private capital investments, infrastructure development, with climate resilient strategies? And of course, these strategies must be adaptive to the changing environment. Unfortunately, the answer is an emphatic no.

What is the Loss and What Should be the Priority

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

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

Another interesting fact that must be the guiding principle in developing infrastructures is to understand which are the most vulnerable sectors prone to disasters. It is estimated that of the annual average infrastructure loss, nearly 30% is associated with earthquakes and 70% are climate related. Hence climate related disasters are bound to further worsen the situation. The estimated risks, almost 80%, are concentrated in power, transport and telecom infrastructures, where asset building only accounts for 15-30% of the total expenditure, and nearly 70-85% is attributable to operation, maintenance, and management. Hence adaptability is the key. What kind of infrastructure building is taking place must be climate resilient and adaptive.

Are we Doing Enough

In fact, 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, construction of four lane highways cutting the mountains at an angle of 90 degrees has shown how perilous this design of building is. The two major highways entering Himachal Pradesh to Kullu and Shimla remained intermittently open for few months. Likewise, the char dham yatra highway is another disaster in the offing. The recent Teesta River flooding in Sikkim reminds how often the warnings of experts and other social groups were brushed aside, only to wait for a disaster to prove the point.

It is high time that the building typologies are also revisited and climate resilient typologies are worked upon. The blatant use of reinforced cement, concrete and steel does not qualify for strong construction materials in the mountains.

Assessing the vulnerabilities is a first step in reducing disaster risk. This has to be further compounded with peoples’ participation of capacity building. These capacities should not just be in a reactive form but in a proactive form. Why cannot communities be build ensuring for safe reliant resilient infrastructure. But for that the current governance architecture has to be adapted too. There has to be empowerment of the people, the communities and civil society groups who have been in the forefront raising alarming issues should be made part of a new governance model. The two constitutional amendments, 73rd and 74th, former dealing with the rural and latter with urban governance, must be implemented in letter and spirit.

The development model has to identify some of the don’ts. And these are: no infrastructure building in flood plains; mapping the water channels and no construction in river basins, gorges, ravines and rivulets; likewise, identifying the sliding zones and dissuading activities in such zones. Strengthening early warning systems, ensuring speedy evacuation of the people.

The climate induced disasters are imminent. The choice is ours, adapt and secure or become rigid and perish. 

  Disclaimer: The article was originally published on The Tribune. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of ActionAid Association.