The complexity and challenges of development in coastal cities

Member Interview Author: Nyoman Prayoga, Lalit Dashora Comments
ASIA: India


Lalit Kumar Dashora is a Disaster Risk Management and Urban Climate Change Resilience Specialist with more than 13 years professional experience at both national and international levels. His range of expertise is derived from his involvement in many assessments, capacity building programs, and planning documents for disaster management and climate change resilience. With his extensive experience and knowledge, he shared his opinions on coastal resilience when ACCCRN interviewed him this month.

You have such extensive experience in the field of DRR and UCCR. How important is it for DRR and UCCR to be considered in development approach especially in coastal city or area?

Climate change is one of the most serious global challenges of this century. Recent events have emphatically demonstrated our growing vulnerability to climate change. Climate change is fast turning out to be a big challenge for mega cities in Asia, where these major settlements are expanding into high risk prone areas to satisfy recurring demand of housing, food, energy, water and livelihoods, especially cities along coasts.

Many of the largest and fastest-growing cities in Asia are located on the coast and therefore vulnerable to sea-level rise. Coastal mega cities are exposed to the more frequent severe cyclones; the heavy rains often result in intense, and sometimes lethal, flash floods. Many waterborne and vector-borne infectious diseases are strongly influenced by climatic conditions, and several are common within cities.

More speculatively, global environmental changes may favor the emergence of new infectious diseases, which may spread faster within and between cities due to travel links and higher rates of person-to-person contact.

As you mentioned earlier, Asian cities are prone to many climate change impacts, especially in coastal areas. What are your concerns about coastal resilience based on those emerging issues?

Most of the cities are likely to expand further over the coming decades and the risk profile is likely to continue to get worse, unless the land use is informed by anthropogenic modification in hydrology. The expansion of cities with constraints imposed by rigid master plans have led to increased land prices which has indirectly forced the poor to settle in peripheries and marginalized areas like drainage lines and differentially higher flood prone areas with little or no protection. 

So, the expanding of cities has resulted in many complex problems and climate change impacts, making the situation worse?

The technological as well socio-economic contexts of the cities have changed over time, resulting in growing lack of coherence between the resource, geo-physical and land use contexts. As these towns expanded, the new infrastructure, like bridges and water supply systems based on distant sources, were developed so that these cities could expand so that their resource footprints could expand far beyond their boundaries. Constriction of flood plains by expanding cities, embankments to protect the expanded areas which further constrained the natural flow resulted in siltation of river beds. The flood risks increased due to these anthropogenic changes in river hydrology. Also the problems of inadequate storm water drainage and filling of traditional water storage reservoirs within the city have increased the pluvial flood risks.

What kinds of effort would you suggest are needed or should be considered more to build resilience towards climate change risks and impacts in coastal area especially in cities of developing countries?

The resilience building process can be based on a set of principles starting from anticipating and forecasting risks across various time scales andgiving priority to avoidance, risk reduction and management of residual risks in that order. This approach can be undertaken because 1) long term area specific prediction of climate change is still in an early stage of evolution 2) the available global and regional models still have coarse resolution and show high diversity in their results 3) the inherent uncertainties are high and only a synoptic outlook with ranges of possibilities only can be expected. Considering these facts, resilience building will have to be based on adaptive management considering current risks from models and observations and provide space for improvement over time.

The multi-sector approach to the city’s problems and its development is an important issue. To generate critical multi-sectoral relevant information from a climate change resilience perspective is need of hour, which can broaden the scope of the planning and design process. Therefore, developing a series of climate change (CC) informed concepts, resilience project options and, later, detailed project reports (DPR), can be critical for the cities to access these national and international programs as and when the opportunities arise.  Studies and research for these DPRs can be one of the resilience building strategies.  These DPRs can empower the cities to leverage funds for building CC resilience as well as develop capacities to appreciate the CC resilience. Inputs from international/national knowledge partners and best practices can be used for developing these DPRs.

Is there any lesson learnt that you like or remember the most from your experience in projects or initiatives related to coastal resilience?

Coastal cities and their larger metropolitan areas are faced with a choice between development in hazard-prone coastal area (floods, SLR, storm surge risk) offering short-term benefits but at high risk or taking the path of safety through restrained development and avoiding flood plains. Retreat from the coast should be the modern choice of development. It is important that development activities are planned and measures undertaken address growing concerns about climate change impacts to maximize the benefits to the city. While many coastal cities have taken several initiatives on disaster risk reduction and hardening of infrastructure, there are opportunities for soft options including preparedness at various levels (for example individual buildings, neighborhoods, vulnerable people and communities). These options can be built on the current coping mechanisms and by providing timely information. Significant improvements in disaster management and mitigation sectors are possible using latest communication and information access tools. 

Thank you for sharing with us, Lalit! Is there any message that you want to emphasize to others that are doing similar initiative with you?  

To sum-up, the populations in coastal cities, especially in developing countries, are highly vulnerable to climatic threats to their properties, infrastructure, human health and business. Specific health vulnerabilities range from heat waves and air-pollution impacts to sea-level rise and cyclonic storms in coastal cities and to emerging infectious diseases. Climate change has brought additional attention to urban planning and technological choices in the energy and transport sectors, providing an opportunity for greater engagement by the health sector. Planners in developing countries also have the benefit of an emerging understanding of how alternative systems in developed countries have impacted health and the environment. Advances in assessment methods are needed, however, to make better linkages between environmental considerations and urban health and health equity. It is essential for the health policy planners and administrators to consider climate change as a major public health problem in the near future. Health and ecological sustainability would also be enhanced by more active promotion of the "healthy cities - healthier citizens" concept, supporting not just an absence of disease but a physical and social environment that enhances all aspects of physical and mental well-being. The inter-sector coordination is the key in dealing with climate change.