Category: Climate Change

How Safe is Our City?

This is the original text in English of my article that appeared in Sakal on 12 July 2011, the 50th anniversary of the Panshet dam breach. The Sakal article (in Marathi) is at this link.

I grew up in IAT on one bank of the Khadakwasla Lake and went to school in NDA, on the other bank. My school bus went by the road adjoining the Khadakwasla dam and every day we would see the huge broken pieces of the old dam which was breached in 1961 when the upstream Panshet dam failed. Fortunately, there was no loss of life in that event of 50 years ago.

But, the population of Pune then was about 6 lakhs; there were hardly any slums and not so many people living in or near stream and river courses. Pune today is a highly dense, much built-up city.

With monsoon patterns becoming erratic due to Climate Change, Vijay Paranjpye says it is quite possible there might be an episode of 2-3 days of heavy rains in the catchment areas towards the end of the monsoon when the five upstream dams are 90% full. Planned discharges from the dams may cause flooding in Pune and this time round a much larger population would have to be evacuated.

Pune is on the verge of three types of disasters according to Sufi Pore, Former Director Disaster Management Training Institute, Mumbai, and who is on the UN list of disaster incident commanders. The number and intensity of earthquakes near Pune is increasing. Their epicentre is typically near Katraj. A stronger quake would affect Khadakwasla and Panshet dams. Another vulnerability is the number of tankers carrying hazardous chemicals, gas, acid on Mumbai-Bangalore highway. In the past, accidents have happened requiring evacuation in a radius of 5 km. If such an accident happens near Chandni Chowk, evacuation would be quite difficult. A third vulnerability is related to terrorist attacks, including biological weapons such as viruses. Even in epidemics, the capability for quarantine is limited.

On this day, the 50th anniversary of the Panshet dam failure disaster, it is pertinent to ask some questions: How prepared is our city to face disasters? Are we taking any preventive steps?

As per the National Disaster Management Act 2005, the District Disaster Management Authority is the main body for planning, coordinating and implementing the measures for disaster management in the district. Urban local bodies have a role too. The PMC has recently set up a Disaster Cell which has prepared a Hazards Response and Mitigation Plan focusing on fires (available on the PMC website). Mr Ganesh Sonwane, in charge of the Cell, says that training, capacity building and awareness efforts are underway. Plans have been made for enhancing the capacity for fire hazard handling equipment and personnel. But are these plans for hazard mitigation adequate?

Recent flooding events present mixed experiences. On the one hand we have read about heroic rescues by the Disaster Response Teams. We also get advisories on TV, radio, newspapers and over sms when planned dam releases are to take place. But I have also interacted with residents along the Ram Nadi who had flood water rising in their houses in a matter of minutes at night last year. No flood warning had been issued, and no officials came to their aid on the day of the flooding. The walls along the campuses of NCL, IITM and the defence estates act as mini dams for rain water rushing down the Chatushringi to Chandni Chowk range. Every monsoon we see flash flooding in these parts even with just a day of heavy rains. We witness landslides every year.

Clearly, our city is at risk. So what should be done? Architect and green building consultant, Anagha Paranjpe says that hazard mapping at the micro level should be done indicating areas prone to flooding, landslides, subsidence as well as congested areas etc. For risk reduction, we should respect the right of way of streams and rivers and the no-development zones on their banks. Of course, people living along the Ram Nadi will say that we don’t care whether you call it a stream or a river, the fact is that we are facing floods and marking a line on a map does not change that reality. Such actual experiences of the community must be taken into account when making micro-level hazard maps rather than sticking only to the theory of planning.

The master plan for the old city limits is being revised. While it is much delayed, this delay presents an opportunity to still try and integrate risk reduction measures in the master plan such as marking out no-development zones and rehabilitation of people living in risk-prone areas. There has to be recognition that the push for conversion of more and more open spaces including hills and wetlands into buildable zones often means increased risks to life and property.

The eco-housing policy that mandates rain water harvesting in every construction after the year 2000 should be reviewed. Geo-hydrologist Dr Himanshu Kulkarni, who is on the committee on sustainable ground water management set up by the Planning Commission, says that all areas of the city are not suitable for rain water recharge. In some places, due to the peculiar nature of the underlying basalt rock, harvesting rainwater and putting it into the ground can cause structural problems for buildings and may even lead to collapse. Instead of the current practice, a comprehensive and scientific aquifer management plan is needed which should be made after identifying the groundwater recharge zones and discharge zones in the city.

The national policy on disaster management recommends increased responsiveness towards vulnerable groups like slum dwellers, school children, poor households, construction workers, migrants etc. They call for conducting community‐based risk and vulnerability assessments and awareness drives through Residents Welfare Associations, traders and industry associations, NSS, schools etc. A clear disaster risk reduction strategy may not be available from the civic authorities. But we citizens should certainly demand for it. Strong democratic and participatory processes at the community level will enable people to be disaster prepared and we can all contribute to making our city a safer place.


Towards a Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Policy for Maharashtra: Urbanization

Presented at Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan, Mumbai on 6 March 2010


Access full paper CCAM 4 March 2010


Rationale /overview for the theme

Maharashtra is among the states with the largest urban populations in India. Till 1991, Maharashtra was the most urbanised state in India among the 16 largest states in India with a population of 78 million. In 2001, with regard to the urban population, Maharashtra ranked second with a share of 42.4% urban population next to Tamil Nadu with a share of 43.9% of urban population. In absolute numbers, according to the 2001 census, 10.5 million was urban population out of a total population of 97 million. The economic and industrialization policies of the state are also further encouraging a shift from agriculture to other sectors that are urban-based, with the objective of economic growth.

Given the large populations that cities host, and the higher energy consumption associated with cities, it is clear that urban areas need special attention while developing state-level strategies to address climate change related issues.

Cities have a critical role in addressing vulnerability, protecting people, preparedness, and resilience. Satterthwaite and Dodman (2009)[1] suggest that while cities are often implicated in discussions on climate change, making cities the culprit misses the fact that a significant proportion of GHG emissions are caused by consumption patterns of middle and upper income groups. Also, it misses the role that well-planned cities have in achieving a healthy habitat and a good quality of life with low GHG levels. A more nuanced approach is therefore necessary.

Certainly reductions in green house gases (GHGs), the sources of which include industrial production, transport, buildings, waste, etc are desirable. However, there is a lot of variation regarding quantity of GHG emissions between different cities. Some cities in high income countries show lower per capita GHG levels than their national averages in Europe and North America e.g. New York and London, especially because of the investments made in public transport and disincentives to private transport. As Maharashtra takes up large transport infrastructure projects, it would be useful to look at what cities like New York and London are doing now to improve mobility while reducing the carbon footprint. In accordance with the National Urban Transport Policy, cities in Maharashtra need to develop a multi-modal approach to mobility with emphasis on public transport and non-motorized transport facilities.

Most cities in Maharashtra have inadequate provision of municipal services. Supply of water, waste-water treatment, solid waste management and preservation of gardens and green areas are among the core municipal services and amenities. These are essential to maintain healthy living conditions and have a key role in disease prevention, which is one of the ways to build resilience. While support is being made available through the JNNURM for improvement in the provision of basic services, a lot remains to be done on the ground.

Livelihood support and micro-credit enable individuals and families to develop a solid economic base which can also help them to be more resilient to shocks caused directly or indirectly due to climate change. A large proportion of the jobs of the urban poor is generally in the informal sector. Some of these informal sector jobs provide services that are ‘low carbon’ and need to be upgraded and supported in various ways. For example, transforming the work conditions of rag-pickers and including them in improving municipal waste management systems can achieve multiple benefits. Not only does the sector provide employment, it also promotes recycling. Work conditions can be improved by mandating source segregation, allocating spaces for neighbourhood composting and sorting of dry recyclables etc. and also encouraging the setting up of facilities for material recovery and recycling in and around urban centres.

Another way of enhancing urban resilience is by adopting pro-poor strategies to address lack of access to decent housing, sanitation, health care, schooling, political voice, etc.

The major tools for city planning are development plans or master plans, development control rules and building codes. Changes are needed in the practices of town planning to take into account strategies for disaster risk reduction (DRR), extreme weather events, space allocation for core services delivered in ‘low carbon’ ways, etc. Building codes to promote ‘low carbon buildings’ should no longer remain voluntary and incentive based, but should become mandatory.

Another important facet is the need for information to support decision making. The reporting framework, as well as the processes of use of city State of the Environment (SoE) reports need strengthening so as to include monitoring of local action taken related to addressing climate change impacts. The SoE reporting process in any case needs strengthening to be useful in the exercises of municipal planning, budgeting and implementing programmes and projects.

City governments and civil society also need to develop mechanisms to greatly enhance public participation. Effective institutions and mechanisms of democratic governance provide the basis for a society to act in concert to face stresses. Participation of citizens in preparation of master plans, annual ward level and sectoral budgets, neighbourhood infrastructure related decision, participatory monitoring and evaluation of development projects are some areas that require a much more open attitude by municipal administrators as well as elected officials.

While there are specific tasks that need to be done within cities, an overall macro policy of climate-change sensitive urbanization in the state also needs to be developed. Urbanization in the state should be planned considering the environmental CARRYING CAPACITY of the region.

[1] Satterthwaite, David and David Dodman (2009). ‘The Role of Cities in Climate Change’ in State of the World 2009. World Watch Institute