Mother Nature has put on a storming show since late August. While all eyes were on the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma has made landfall in Caribbean and closing in on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands with Florida in its projected path. A week back, more than 8,000 miles away , catastrophic floods wreaked havoc in South Asia. Unusually heavy monsoon rains over the last several weeks have killed over 1,000 people across India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. It is not just hurricanes or monsoons. Record setting drought has led to one of the busiest fire seasons in the history of Southeastern United States as well as British Columbia.
And while it is impossible to tie a single weather event to climate change, extreme weather events like these are precisely what the climate experts have been predicting- where normal weather events skew towards more intense and more frequent ones. That’s exactly what’s happening now.
On all sides there has been a massive human, business and infrastructure loss. Hurricane Harvey is now the third, 500 year flood to hit the Houston area in the last three years, and the worst rainstorm in U.S history. It could rank among the top costliest storms to hit the U.S with estimate of about 45 to 65 billion dollars. In South Asia, over 41 million people mostly impoverished have suffered the direct impact of the rain. 16 million children need urgent, life-saving support, according to the United Nations children’s agency. Already impoverished, rural communities have been devastated as mudslides have taken away homes –as well as people in Sierra Lone.
In the wake of all these disasters, it is easy to be overcome by a wave of fear and gloom. The environmental, social and economic shocks in a climate-changing world are affecting every one
The big question is how will we manage? It a question that is coming to the fore as countries, cities, and communities look for new ways to resist and recover quickly from the impacts of climate change.
Governments need to rethink infrastructure, land use, coastal development, energy systems and other things through the lens of climate change. Resilience must be adopted through climate adaptation and mitigation.
Governments around the world face shrinking budgets, growing costs and prolonged political debates to tackle the stress of climate change. Added to this are governance issues which have allowed unregulated metropolitan growth and inadequate building regulations making the land unavailable for water absorption .
How much is this possible in view of lack of effective climate leadership?
A look around shows the situation is not sad though. Most of the resiliency works are being lead by the cities. There is a newfound dedication in cities and communities being ‘solution-arian’ –where solutions are being sought to mitigate and adapt to climate change. These cities are investing in rebuilding their cities and contributing to climate resiliency by means of disaster relief efforts.
Below are some poignant examples that explain the concept of cities being ‘solution-arian’
Rise of Chief Resilience Officer
In view of the federal governments lack of climate leadership, there is more focus than ever on the role of cities in addressing issues of resilience exacerbated by climate change. Under the Rockfeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge , the position of Chief Resilience Officer has been created to convince the citizens of resilience’s value. CRO acts like bridges between what the government wants and what the citizens need. They increase communication between the public and private sector to build resilience in the city. They take upon hard tasks like building capacity in the community, initiating substantial behavior change and engaging citizens, businesses etc in resilience efforts. As of late July, officially 79 Chief Resilient Officers have been appointed throughout the world from Toronto to Chennai and Surat in India, Jakarta and Melbourne to name a few.
New York City’s Resilient Neighborhood Study
After the damage done by Hurricane Sandy, New York City has conducted Resilient Neighbourhood Study to increase the resilience of buildings and livelihoods. The city’s sustainable development plan OneNYC short for “One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City” focuses equally on the lifting residents out of poverty as well as involving communities in emergency preparedness, build defences to rising sea levels, harden infrastructure against flooding among other things.
Cyclone Shelters, boat schools and flood resistant homes in Bangladesh
By helping local people get access to low cost, effective technology, many NGOs have helped Bangladesh develop resilience to extreme rain and floods.
Practical Action, a British based NGO has helped build weather adaptive houses. Such houses are designed to survive torrential rains, winds and floods
Cyclone shelters, set up with the help of USAID, have dramatically helped the coastal population in Bangladesh remain safe as powerful cyclones hit the country’s coastline. In May this year, around 3,800 relief centres were organized by the government officials in Bangladesh ahead of Cyclone Mora to help the vulnerable.
Another amazing non profit, Shidhulai Swanirvar Sngstha has developed floating schools, clinics, libraries and even floating farms when there is too much rain.
While these resilience efforts see like drop in an ocean, they present an unprecedented opportunity to work with technology, infrastructure and people to build environments that work with, rather than against the forces of nature,