Building Urban Areas That Are More Resilient

While cities are often blamed inaccurately for producing the bulk of climate-changing activities, there is little doubt that they are centers of climate vulnerability. Hundreds of millions of urban dwellers in low- and middle-income nations are at risk from the direct and indirect impacts of climate change. As the number of people living in cities and towns has grown—more than half of the world's population now lives in urban areas—so too has the concentration of residents in vulnerable settings. U.N. estimates suggest that at least 900 million urban dwellers in low- and middle-income nations "live in poverty," a situation exacerbated by the greater need in urban areas to pay for housing, water, access to toilets, health care, education for children, and traveling to and from work. Yet this concentration of people and economic activities also provides the potential for effective adaptation, improved resilience, and the chance to meet broader development needs.28

Building urban resilience is important, first, because of the scale of the population at risk: a large and growing proportion of

Building Resilience those most at risk from climate change live in urban areas. Second, it is important because of the potential economic costs of not having effective adaptation strategies: successful national economies depend on well-functioning and resilient urban centers. Third, it is important because of the vulnerability of these large urban populations to a variety of hazards that will result from climate change, including extreme weather events, floods, and water shortages.

The city of Manizales in Colombia has taken steps to build resilience, particularly by not letting rapidly growing low-income populations settle on dangerous sites.

Urban residents are vulnerable to a wide range of climate change impacts. Changes in temperature may worsen air quality and increase energy demands for heating or cooling, changes in precipitation will increase the risk of flooding and landslides, and sea level rise will lead to coastal flooding and the salin-ization of water sources. More-frequent and more-intense extreme events—such as tropical cyclones, drought, and heat waves—will also affect human health and well-being. In addition, there will be changes in the types of threats cities are exposed to as people move away from stressed rural habitats and as biological changes mean disease carriers can survive in a wider area.

All these threats come together in cities like Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. Its population has grown more than twentyfold in the last 50 years, and it now has more than 10 million inhabitants. Severe floods, most recently in 2007, have had major economic impacts: damaging houses and infrastructure and reducing manufacturing productivity through power outages, increased conges tion, and poor health among the work force. Large sections of the city are only a few meters above sea level, and the combination of sea level rise and increasingly frequent and intense storms is likely to greatly increase these risks.29

The challenges are often even more acute in smaller urban centers. Elsewhere in Bangladesh, Khulna is a coastal city with a population of 1.2 million. Large parts of the city are frequently waterlogged after heavy rainfall, and there are problems with the salin-ization of surface water. Despite being neglected by policymakers and researchers, small- and intermediate-sized cities house an increasing proportion of the world's urban population, and the changes that are made— or not made—in these places will have substantial implications for resilience to climate change in future years.30

What can be done to build resilience in these settings? Resilience will require improving urban infrastructure, creating more effective and pro-poor structures of governance, and building the capacity of individuals and communities to address these new challenges and move beyond them. In some ways, building infrastructural resilience is the most straightforward aspect of this. After all, cities around the world exist in hostile natural surroundings: much of lower Manhattan is land that has been reclaimed from the sea, and London is protected from major flood events by the Thames Barrier. Even in wealthy countries, however, these measures may not be sufficient to deal with the most extreme events, as was horribly evident in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

In many of the most vulnerable cities, the financial resources to provide this sort of protection are not available. Thus it is necessary to place a high priority on ensuring that the systems that facilitate resilience—at the urban, community, and household scale—are

Building Resilience adapted to take into account the threats of climate change. Indeed, effective adaptation is all about the quality of local knowledge and about local capacity and the willingness to act, although this has to take place in the context of transparent and effective systems of local and national governance.

City and municipal governments have a key role to play in facilitating urban resilience. (See Box 5-1.) They participate directly, through the provision and maintenance of infrastructure, but even more important they participate indirectly through encouraging and supporting particular activities by individuals and private enterprises. Municipal authorities often have responsibility for land use planning, which needs to ensure that low-income groups can find affordable land for housing that is not on a site vulnerable to climate change. They also often have responsibility for enforcing building codes, and they can ensure that buildings and infrastructure take account of climate change risks without imposing unaffordable costs on low-income urban residents. Urban resilience can also be facilitated through the adoption of pro-poor strategies that enable individuals to develop sustainable and resilient livelihoods. Indeed, having a solid economic base is one of the main ways to help households cope with the shocks and stresses that will become more frequent as a result of climate change.31

All these urban actions to build resilience rely on the active engagement of other local stakeholders and a supportive national government. Higher levels of government have key roles in building urban resilience as they provide the legislative, financial, and institutional basis within which urban authorities, the private sector, civil society, and other stakeholders act to adapt to climate change. A supportive legal system can bolster locally developed responses and provide appropriate guidelines for stakeholders to build resilience at the most appropriate scale. Unfortunately, many bilateral aid agencies and multilateral development banks do not recognize the importance of local authorities in this process and fail to provide adequate support to increase local competence and willingness to act. Redressing this situation would provide a substantial boost to building urban resilience.32

Recent activities in Durban, one of South Africa's largest cities, illustrate the practical ways that forward-thinking urban institutions can help cities become more resilient to climate change. The Environmental Management Department in eThekwini Municipality (an expansion of what was Durban Municipality) initiated a Climate Protection Programme in 2004. This has included building an understanding of global and regional climate change science and then translating that into the implications of climate change for Durban. The city developed a Headline Climate Change Adaptation Strategy to highlight how key sectors should begin responding to unavoidable climate change. Most important, the municipality has incorporated climate change into long-term city planning to address the vulnerability of key sectors such as health, water and sanitation, coastal infrastructure, disaster management, and biodiversity. Adaptation strategies of this type yield few obvious short-term benefits but will generate greater rewards as the effects of climate change are increasingly felt.33

The city of Manizales in Colombia has also taken steps to build resilience, particularly by not letting rapidly growing low-income populations settle on dangerous sites. Its population was growing rapidly, with high levels of spontaneous settlement in areas at risk from floods and landslides. Local authorities, universities, NGOs, and communities worked together to develop programs aimed not only at reducing risk but also at improv-

Building Resilience

Box 5-1. Protecting Watersheds to Build Urban Resilience

In a warmer world, water supply challenges will require new ways of thinking about resilience that go beyond the engineering of pipes and ditches to new nonstructural land management approaches that work with nature to protect the quality and quantity of the resource. Among the pioneers of such new thinking was New York City, which in the early 1990s rejected a proposal to build more water filtration plants in favor of buying and protecting forested land well beyond city lines in the upstream watershed of the Hudson River.

Having a forested watershed may not guarantee more water flow; trees, after all, transpire vast amounts of water into the atmosphere. But the soils that healthy forests develop tend to ensure water filtration, as well as to filter out sediment and impurities from water that flows into rivers. The spongelike forest soil, the product of high carbon content in combination with healthy microbial communities as leaves and other tree litter decay, also holds water and thus moderates the extremes of stream flow—which could temper the water-flow extremes that follow the melting of mountain glaciers.

Some communities are building new institutions rather than water infrastructure in hopes of reducing their vulnerability to hydrological extremes. One such community is Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Set in a bowl-shaped basin in the northern Andes, Quito receives most of its water from mountain grasslands that have long been considered virtual water factories because of their capacity to turn the melting snow and the cold, humid air above glaciers into stream flows that make their way into the metropolis.

As human activities strained the water supply from these grasslands at the end of the last century, however, Quito began investing in an innovative public-private partnership to protect and manage the grassland-covered watersheds above the city. The Quito Watershed Protection Fund (known as FONAG, from its name in Spanish) is funded through a 1.25-per-

cent tax on municipal water in the metropolitan area, supplemented by payments by electrical utilities and donations from private water users. A diversity of outside donors, both domestic and international, have contributed as well. The money raised finances the conservation and protection of the grasslands, wetlands, and upstream forests and natural areas.

FONAG finances predominantly long-term activities—community park rangers for protected areas, reforestation, environmental education, outreach and training, and hydrology. Some short-term interventions or projects, such as sustainable production activities and handcrafts, are also supported in order to ensure innovative approaches and promote continuous learning and improvement. With assets of $5.5 million, FONAG had a budget in 2008 of $2.9 million.

One of the Fund's challenges is that hydro-logical science and information have yet to catch up to the need to work with nature in supplying metropolitan water. River systems are a complex product of physiology, hydrology, biology, and human demands. Data are only beginning to come in that can demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of FONAG's efforts. Trained human resources in the new field are scarce, and institutional capacity is in its infancy. There is no certainty that taking preventive measures today will ameliorate the impacts of future climate change.

Despite these challenges, other cities in Ecuador and in neighboring Colombia and Peru are beginning to replicate the FONAG model of public-private partnerships that aim to conserve clean and abundant water supplies. The days when water resources were assumed to be both renewable and "always there" are fading, especially as dwindling glaciers remind those who depend on high-mountain water that yesterday's climate is no guarantee of tomorrow's.

—Marta Echavarria, Ecodecision

Source: See endnote 31.

Building Resilience ing the living standards of the poor. Between 1990 and 1992, some 2,320 dwelling units were built for people in the lowest-income groups, reducing the number of households in high-risk zones by 63 percent and allowing 360 hectares of land to be reforested as eco-parks with strong environmental education components.34

Unfortunately, actions of this type are not widespread and are particularly rare in small-and medium-sized cities. Where cities and urban institutions have addressed climate change issues, this has usually been from the perspective of mitigation, which involves limiting GHG emissions, particularly carbon dioxide and methane, to reduce further climate change. Adaptation is far more complicated to measure, resolve, and bring about. On a more positive note, however, many of the strategies to build urban resilience to climate change also represent good practice for urban development more generally. More-responsive local governments, improved infrastructure, and better systems for disaster preparedness are all key for improving the quality of life for urban residents more generally, as well as for building resilience.35

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