Can India’s coastal cities survive an Irma-type storm? | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Can India’s coastal cities survive an Irma-type storm?

Planning for climate resilience would need to start from the time of locating the infrastructure facilities. For instance, infrastructure for solid waste management, especially landfills, have to be located keeping in mind the projected sea level rise. Similarly, planning for climate resilience would mean ensuring water supply channels have back-ups for extreme weather events.

editorials Updated: Sep 13, 2017 11:13 IST
Umbrellas held by Janesse Brown, left, and her daughter Briana Johnson, 12, right, get torn apart by strong winds as Kyra Johnson, 8 watch, while they tried to visit Southbank Riverwalk in Jacksonville, Fla., September 10, 2017, as Hurricane Irma passes the area.
Umbrellas held by Janesse Brown, left, and her daughter Briana Johnson, 12, right, get torn apart by strong winds as Kyra Johnson, 8 watch, while they tried to visit Southbank Riverwalk in Jacksonville, Fla., September 10, 2017, as Hurricane Irma passes the area. (AP)

The battering Hurricane Irma, an extremely powerful tropical cyclone, has been giving to the US, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Martin, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas and Cuba should be a wake-up call for India. This is because the country too much to lose if an Irma-type storm hits the 7,517 km-long densely populated coastline. Along with the human cost of such a catastrophe (remember the cyclones in Orissa, cyclone Hudhud and the tsunami?), the coastline also houses a web of infrastructure, including transport and freight networks, road and rail corridors, industrial zones and parks, maritime and port facilities, petroleum industries and refineries. Then there are new projects such as the NDA government’s Sagarmala Programme. Under the Programme, there will be an investment of approximately Rs 8 lakh crore in 415 projects, which includes several ports.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR5) has warned that due to climate change extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent and stronger. The events would hit coastal life and property even harder when their impacts get combined with the sea level rise that climate change is causing.

To save lives and infrastructure, Indian cities have to build resilience so that they can withstand such natural shocks, which, as several studies have pointed out, are expected to increase, thanks to frequent and intense heavy precipitation over most regions. But building resilience, as Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, writes in a blog, is not a sprint or even a marathon. It’s a relay race.

According to a policy brief by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the main challenges for incorporating climate resilience into coastal infrastructure starts with the non-availability of fine-resolution data such as sea level measurement and variation in precipitation. Such location-specific information – within the larger picture of how climate change is affecting or will affect the Indian coast – can help planners and administrators to build in climate resilience.

Planning for climate resilience would need to start from the time of locating the infrastructure facilities. For instance, infrastructure for solid waste management, especially landfills, have to be located keeping in mind the projected sea level rise. Similarly, planning for climate resilience would mean ensuring water supply channels have back-ups for extreme weather events.

Critically, building climate resilience also requires buy-in from the political class, since it requires coordination among multiple stakeholders. But at the moment we don’t hear too many politicians losing their sleep over the challenge of climate-protecting their constituents.