Urban Resiliency- Sambal member upload

Building resilient cities with reference to Guwahati, India. Published in "The Sentinel" 16 October, 2016

BY: Sheikh Khairul Rahaman
Original Source / Author: The Sentinel (News Paper) / Sheikh Khairul Rahaman 04 Dec, 2017
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Urban Resiliency

(Originally Published in ‘The Sentinel’ - http://www.sentinelassam.com/sunday/pages.php/feature8/0/the-urban-resiliency/2016-10-16/2/3102?sec=feature8&subsec=0&news_name=the-urban-resiliency&dtP=2016-10-16&ppr=2&id=3102)

Sheikh Khairul Rahaman

Sustainable development of Guwahati

In Asia, each hour around 5,000 people (1,20,000 people each day) join the urban population contributing to the rapid growth of urban areas. The process of rapid growth of urban population includes three factors – the natural increase of the urban population, migration of thousands of people from rural areas to urban, and reclassification of rural settlements into cities and towns.

In the year 1800, less than 3 percent of the world’s population were living in urban areas and in 1950, it increased to 30%. In 2008, for the first time in the history, half of the world’s population lived in urban areas and it is projected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. Nearly 90 per cent of the growth is projected to be in Africa and Asia. Today, 48 per cent of Asia (40% in Africa) is urban-based and projected to 64 per cent (56% in Africa) by 2050. India, China and Nigeria will account for 37 per cent of the growth with India adding 404 million urban people, China 292 million and Nigeria 212 million. Delhi is the world’s second largest (after Tokyo) city with 25 million population and Mumbai stands fourth with 21 million populations. As per the census of India 2011, nearly one in six urban people lives in slums. These unsanitary slums are breeding grounds of diseases like cholera, SARS and H1N1, etc.

Unlike the current unprecedented rate of urbanization, especially in developing countries like India, the urbanization process in the 19th and early 20th centuries was slow and the administration was able to cope with it to plan and provide facilities to its habitants. Today, the unplanned and rapid growth of urban areas without adequate housing and proper infrastructure is the hotspots for fast growing risks. While the many benefits of organized and efficient cities are well understood, we need to recognize that this rapid, often unplanned urbanization brings risks of profound social instability, risks to critical infrastructure, potential water crises and the potential for devastating spread of disease, and most importantly increased risks which leads to many disasters and aggravates existing situations.

The UN’s Post-2015 development agenda has rightly mentioned that “cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost.” The Sendai Declaration of Local and Subnational Governments on “Ensuring Enhanced Resilience to Disasters in the Urban World” committed to 14 points of actions to make cities resilient. While the Sendai Framework tries to make Sustainable Develop Goals (SDGs) disasterproof, the SDGs, especially Goal 11 (make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) talks about sustainable and resilient cities. The first ever National Disaster Management Plan 2016, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 1, 2016 also recognizes the unplanned rapid urbanization as one of the causes for increased probability of disaster and potential damage.

Cities are drivers of economic growth, innovation, cultural diversity and resilience as well. In 2007, 790 cities around the world generated over 80% of the world’s GDP. The urban population is educated and economically storing and hence provides scope for wider awareness and resilience building. Hence, there is a strong need for building the resiliency of the cities and contributing to the sustainable growth of the cities.

Guwahati is prone to multi-disasters - natural as well as man-made. It has experienced several extreme weather events, notably recurring flash floods every year that brings the city to a standstill and causes tremendous damages. With its unique bowl-shaped topography, the poor drainage system for storm water has made Guwahati vulnerable to flash flood and water logging. The problem of flooding and water logging has been a recurring phenomenon for Guwahati.Let’s have a look at the risks that the city is living with:

1. There is lack of a comprehensive multi-hazards mapping, profiling, planning and approach for disaster risk reduction in Guwahati. Risk profiling and planning of the city is a must for urban risk reduction initiatives. It helps to identify the risks of the city and plan appropriate actions for its mitigation.

2. The country has building codes in place. The codes need to be regularly reviewed and updated. Gaps in regulation and governance is the cause of poor performance of the building codes and cause for breaching the standards. There is also need of developing new building designs to make infrastructure resilient to disasters. There is a high chance of getting the infrastructure destructed with even a small disaster. It takes us years back by losing the development gains. 

3. Spatial management in rapid urbanization is one of the key factors to reduce future vulnerability of Guwahati. Urban planning should protect the natural buffers and ecosystems. There should be regulations prohibiting or limiting the use or urban development in the hazard prone areas. The city as a whole should be well-planned, well-connected and provisioned for services to all. The natural buffers, such as hills around the city, forest coverage, Deeper Beel, Silsako Beel and other wetlands have been encroached and not been protected. This has increased the flood and other vulnerabilities of the city.

4. Construction and development in the high vulnerable areas such as flood plains, landslide areas is making Guwahati more vulnerable and can have a devastating effect of a disaster. The existing buildings or habitation have to be ensured safety with or without moving them to safe places and new construction should be regulated and avoided.

5. The authority responsibility for managing the rapid urbanization and reducing the disaster risks in its vicinity: They are the frontline duty bearers and primarily responsible for disaster risk management and providing necessary services to the citizens. The existing gap between huge demand and present capacity has to be reduced by a wide range of capacity building arrangements.

6. There is the need to empower the urban planners to influence the decision making process. It will help them in planning disaster risk management for the megacity.

7. Disaster risk reduction is everybody’s business. Stakeholders from different sectors need to be engaged to play their part. There is a need to engage private and most importantly, communities, to make Guwahati resilient. Priorities for Action 3, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction calls for public and private investment in disaster risk reduction.

8. Mechanisms for transferring risk should be in place. Insurance mechanisms should be there, especially for the low-income groups to help them insure their assets.

9. There are 94 slums pockets and around 12.64% of the city’s population lives in these slums and it underscore the fragile vulnerability of Guwahati. Slums renewal or upgrading could be one of the solutions for urban development and reducing risks. These areas need to be provided affordable housing, safe drinking water, sanitation facility, drainage system, roads, electricity, transportation, etc.

10. Guwahati and Srinagar fall in what is called “very severe intensity zone”, or zone V, the highest-risk earthquake zone, according to a seismic zoning map issued by the Bureau of Indian Standards and reported in the GOI-UNDP Disaster Risk Management Program Report. Northeast India is seismically one of the six most active earthquake prone zones in the world. And the seismic risk of the city is increasing with its growing population and encroachment of high vulnerable areas.

We experience small scale disasters causing from the ‘everyday risk’ popped-up from the grave of the above risks and vulnerabilities.These are added with risks from extreme natural hazards and cause risk accumulation. All these factors acts in contributing to severe damage even by a relatively small disaster. It is observed that the number of affected people and damages caused by the severe impact of natural disaster is often higher in urban than rural areas. On the other hand, Guwahati is rapidly growing vertically and horizontally allowing more people to enter the city and many of them are in hotspot of risks and hazards prone areas. The disasters destroy the hard-earned developments we gain and takes us years back. Sometimes, it takes decades to get back to the previous situation. Hence, let’s act right now to win the battle of sustainable development.

A few months back,,Guwahati started getting ready to tackle the worst kind of floods. As you might know, on June 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the first ever National Disaster Management Plan with a well-designed strategy for urban floods mitigation and preparedness. On June 29, within less than month after releasing the Plan, Guwahati witnessed the first and biggest ever National-level Flood Mock Drill at Jalrahat as a measure of preparedness.

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