Author: Nivedita Mani, Jim Jarvie, Shiraz Wajih Comments
ASIA: India

Urbanising centres and their peri-urban peripheries are located in a range of different ecosystems. These include, rural, forest and coastal landscapes. Whereas they provide critical services sustaining urban systems, when neglected, eroded or otherwise mismanaged they can pose risks like floods, droughts, landslides and food insecurity.

Peri-urban areas, the transitional zones between urbanising areas and the surrounding ecosystems, are key to managing these and other hazards, many of these increasingly heightened through climate change impact.

More than half the world’s population now lives in urban and urbanising areas, a proportion that is anticipated to rise. Asian cities lie at the heart of this growth. Yet these cities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as they constitute complex socio-technical systems in rapidly changing physical environments. This makes it difficult to predict or assess levels of urban resilience to disaster risk. This is critical, especially as a changing climate takes an increasing toll in human life and economic cost.

A critical issue is that few, if any, municipal governments have jurisdiction over the entire ecosystems they both depend on and affect. Yet as cities expand, gradual changes in land use and occupation transform wider ecosystems, particularly in transitional ‘peri-urban’ areas.

Inhabitants of peri-urban regions, especially in secondary cities, are increasingly threatened by a deteriorating quality of life prompted by loss of ecosystem services resulting in water depletion and pollution, flood and other hazards, and rising costs of land.

In cities, where governance is weak, policy and regulation rarely focuses on mechanisms for public service delivery. Across government jurisdictions, including city administrations and those representing adjacent rural or other communities, lack of coordination usually means that cities are both exposed to risk from upstream hazard, and do harm to downstream communities.

Peri-urban areas often have semi-natural ecosystems providing natural resources for growing cities, while being increasingly influenced by urban economic drivers. This two-way interaction changes the lifestyles and choices of peri-urban inhabitants as their environment goes through rapid change.

The extractive nature of urbanisation places a low premium on preserving supporting ecosystems, which are barely recognised and especially so if outside of strict administrative boundaries. In such cases, city governance functions in a vacuum isolated from perceived hinterlands.

A lack of “joined up governance” in urbanising areas usually leads to encroachment of ecologically sensitive lands for housing and other construction activities. The ‘green infrastructure’ is increasingly converted into ‘built infrastructure’, often exposed to hazard.

Across Asia, urbanisation among secondary cities builds into flood plains and exposed coastal zones, leading to increasing social and economic losses through environmental and weather related disasters, which in turn will be exacerbated by climate change. These are already changing the face of agriculture, reducing open spaces, and enhancing pressure on natural resources. These areas are often marked by a lack of hygiene and sanitation infrastructure, industrial effluence, air pollution and inadequate provision of basic services.

Often, the solid waste of a city is dumped in peri-urban areas. All this leads holistic development of many cities into a precarious situation, exceeding environmental thresholds.

The experiences of the ACCCRN initiative, which initially spanned 10 cities across India, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia, and now expanded to over 60, showed that ecosystem based adaptation is key to building urban climate change resilient in cities. The provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural services provided by ecosystems for a city support underpin functioning urban systems.

Understanding of urban climate change resilience (UCCR) and its interaction with peri-urban and ecosystem services is dismal at policy levels on multiple scales in multiple countries. Causes are numerous, including governance capacity failure and obstacles to coordination within city administrations, and between these administrations and those of adjacent areas.

The processes and laws pertaining to land use decisions regarding peri-urban spaces often lack transparency and are driven by short-sighted gains. And because cities and the ecosystems they occupy are controlled by different government administrations that are poorly coordinated, if at all, policy makers and the general public alike remain poorly informed regarding the direct and indirect impacts of land use change and development on peri-urban ecosystems. This issue is critical within many Asian countries and is likely to become more as trans-national issues, particularly pertaining to control and use of water, come further into play.

Experience has shown that governance and policy support are critical to achieving desired long-term outcomes for inclusive urban resilience building. Legislation is needed to institutionalize approaches to ecosystem challenges, create funding streams for initiatives, formalize ownership of peri-urban areas, outline and coordinate the involvement of relevant stakeholders including municipal and other governments, and create enforceable mechanisms for accountability in the provision of ecosystem services.

Working Group Focus

In response ACCCRN partners the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group and Mercy Corps Indonesia are forming an Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group. Its initial focus will be to look at critical themes including:

  • Water related risk in urban/urbanising contexts including, but not limited to, flooding, salination of fresh water supply, water security and access, drought, and conservation of green space through restriction of damaging land use change patterns.
  • The interaction and impact of cities in their surrounding landscapes, including watersheds and peri-urban regions.
  • How upstream and downstream water management practices can raise resilience. Opportunities to integrate pro-poor/inclusive/just outcomes through ecosystem-based decision making into city resilience building through planning and budgeting in Asia.
  • Exploring an ‘avoidance of loss and damage’ perspective (real and potential) in line with COP21.
  • Knowledge sharing across geographic and thematic contexts.
  • Networking with like-minded organisation, institutions, government bodies for policy advocacy around the peri-urban issue
  • Mapping the need for designing further research programmes to provide empirical evidences for necessary policy actions

The working group is looking to promote cross-learning among different interest groups and stakeholders, both within ACCCRN and alongside other partners, treating this as a learning platform to exchange ideas and experiences and undertake joint advocacy initiatives in a collective form.

Along with colleagues from the Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation initiative, a programme aiming to deliver high-quality, cutting-edge research that will improve understanding of the way ecosystems function, the services they provide and their relationship with the political economy and sustainable growth, we are initiating an initial scoping study to map the diversity of problems between cities and landscapes, and the real and potential scale of loss & damage.

This will involve in better understanding who the key stakeholders are across Asia; what information, and in what formats, is needed to advocate for policy, investment and implementation; and map barriers/enablers, particularly those related to urban governance and the political economy. The outcome will be to list costed options for future activities and products that would effectively leverage evidence to influence decision-makers in Asia to write better policies, and make better investment decisions; and suggest make recommendations to prioritise urban resilience work moving forward.  

We will be inviting network members to join this research and for further information please contact the authors above.


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