An interesting conference in the last week of October brought me back to Delhi and also gave me some interesting insights. Entitled ‘The Evaluation Conclave 2010’, it was a mix of over two hundred development professionals from across Asia, Europe and America and working with a focus on Asia. The conference had a typical profile of international and national NGOs, international development funding agencies, researchers and consultants. Issue focus was also typical: poverty, gender and environment. Within environment, the focus remained on climate change. The event was no doubt a major event by any standards.
At the event, I noticed that nobody from any nation was talking about climate change mitigation because that means having to take responsibility for past actions. Infighting on this issue is such that there are divides between nations. However, climate change impacts have no boundaries, and neither a very well defined past or good measurement tools to evaluate the impacts. Add to that the global financial crisis which has shifted the focus away from climate change to economic development. In a recent conference in Istanbul, climate change was graded as 8th on a 10 point scale of global priorities by a group of policy makers and financial specialists. That was another interesting insight for me.
The new focus that now seems to be emerging is ‘Adaptation Resilience in Cities’. This provides an empowering context for communities and settlements within cities, already facing much environmental problems, to take actions. Today, the most vulnerable communities protect themselves from disasters by reducing the disaster risks using their informal indicators. For example in the community of Kuchhpura in Agra city, the community faces the onslaught of floods from River Yamuna every alternate year. So they have markers to indicate when the flood has crossed the danger level. And they know exactly when it is time to move in their women and children and when it is time for themselves to move out of their settlement. Adaptive resilience advocates that these actions be legitimized and supported by policy.
The likely scenario of climate change, and the environmental crisis, is an increase in frequency of these once in a while disaster events. We therefore need to take adaptive actions that are built into the infrastructure development so that they can work for those most vulnerable today. In the case of the Kuchhpura community, by building add on embankments and a separate storm-water drain ensuring easy drainage of flooding can make a big difference. But this is not happening, as the JNNURM slum development policy does not include anything like this.
Thus what is needed most urgently is to mainstream climate change adaptation in urban infrastructure development. Creating this new possibility of adaptive resilience supports a new future in the face of climate change. Every one benefits from it, especially the marginal communities who tend to occupy vulnerable lands in urban settings.