Most of urban poor population lives in informal settlements that lack resilient infrastructure
MEMBER INTERVIEW: SAKIB IMTIAZ, Bangladesh
Sakib Imtiaz is a development professional based in Bangladesh who is currently working on a project called “Building Resilience of the Urban Poor” which is being implemented in the Gazipur City, Bangladesh. His expertise lies in the field of Urban Resilience, Disaster Management and Climate Change. He gained his Master of Science in Disaster Management from the Department of Geography and Environment at University of Dhaka. During his studies, he did his academic research on The Cyclone Preparedness Program. With his extensive experience and knowledge, he shared his opinion on the urban poor and their relationship with urban infrastructure when ACCCRN interviewed him recently.
What do you think about how climate change impacts are affecting the urban poor and what are the main challenges for them?
In terms of any climate change induced disaster, it is always the low-income urban population who are mostly affected. In a coastal city, poor people are hit hardest by floods and cyclones. Poor people are the ones who suffer most due to heat waves. Urban poor populations usually live in informal settlements and most of these settlements are lacking in resilient infrastructure. As a result, these houses are more likely to collapse during storms and floods. On the other hand, the unhygienic condition of their living places increases their vulnerability.
What are the most critical issues facing them based on your experience, especially in relation to urban infrastructure or services?
I found that increasing heat waves, scarcity of safe water, urban flooding and water logging are the most critical issues in the urban slums. Heat waves drive the demand for clean water but slum dwellers often lack reliable access to safe drinking water. Excessive withdrawal of water, along with the indirect impacts of climate change, result in ground water depletion in the cities which cause the scarcity of safe water. Unplanned urbanization has drastically transformed the drainage characteristics. Drainage systems are unable to cope with the increased volume of rain water and are often faced with the blockages due to the lack of solid waste management. Unfortunately, the community led waste management system of not so far been able to overcome the negative impacts of City Corporation’s inadequate solid waste management system. The final waste disposal site is not being maintained by the government properly. Even if the collection from dustbins for the final disposal were to be made efficient, the major part of the problem would still remain unsolved.
How do you involve community, especially the urban poor, in your work to build resilience?
Currently I am working on a project called “Building Resilience of the Urban Poor” which promotes community based resilience. We involve the local people through a community development committee consisting of influential local people. We pursue each and every community level intervention through this committee. Also, to ensure the representation of women and children, we formed both a women’s group and a children’s group in the community. We involve them from the risk assessment stage to the implementation stage of the risk reduction action plan. In order to identify the vulnerability of women and children, we did a “Gender Vulnerability Analysis” in our working area.
Is there any specific approach that you find appropriate, effective, or ideal, when it comes to making the community more resilient to climate change impacts or disasters?
From my point of view, the best practice is to engage the poor communities with the local government, so that they can voice their demands. A major success of our approach is building social cohesion among the slum dwellers. They are now united and they have frequent communication with their ward councilors, the representatives of local government. It helped mainstream the community level risk reduction action plan.
From your experience working on resilience issue in Bangladesh, or any other places, what are the key challenges for you?
As urban resilience is a little bit of a new concept for NGOs working in Bangladesh, but we often has to face new challenges. Unplanned urban planning is mostly responsible for that. Besides, urban communities are very much time-poor. High migration rates are another problem for working with slum dwellers. There is a large floating population that has no fixed place to live in the city. Sometimes, lack of cooperation from local government makes our job more challenging.
Is there any message to others involved in similar initiatives to you that you would like to emphasize ?
People who are working in the similar field, I recommend you devise more and more technology based interventions. Recently, ground water depletion has emerged as a threat for cities. This may cause land subsidence which will increase the risk of building collapse. We must address this problem. While we are working to establish safe water supply systems, we need to think of artificial ground water recharging systems too. I suggest conducting more research on the issues related to urban climate change because there has not been enough research done on the impact of climate change in the urban context.
Sakib Imtiaz is a development professional based in Bangladesh, currently working in the field of Urban Resilience, Disaster Management, and Climate Change. Besides this, he is a freelance writer and photographer. His articles on various resilience issues have been published in the national and international media.