Climate-focused policies are key to building resilient infrastructure - Hindustan Times
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Climate-focused policies are key to building resilient infrastructure

Dec 18, 2023 09:11 PM IST

A movement to enhance resilience across India's districts, cities, and communities needs to begin now

COP28 began on a positive note with the approval of the loss and damage fund. The initial commitment is $475 million, which will support low- and middle-income countries suffering from climate-induced damage caused by disasters such as cyclones and flash floods.

Attention to operation and maintenance (O&M) is critical. Lack thereof was evident from this year’s Delhi floods, caused in part due to jammed floodgates on the Yamuna barrage.(HT Photo)
Attention to operation and maintenance (O&M) is critical. Lack thereof was evident from this year’s Delhi floods, caused in part due to jammed floodgates on the Yamuna barrage.(HT Photo)

While the loss and damage fund is a welcome development, we need to focus on enhancing resilience to minimise the damage. A recent report by the Centre for Science and Environment revealed that India witnessed a disaster nearly daily during the first nine months of this year. The damage was extensive, with close to 3,000 lives lost, 1.84 million hectares of cropland affected, and over 80,000 houses destroyed. In addition to personal tragedies, destroyed roads, burst water pipes, and damaged public buildings can make the path to recovery difficult.

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India is one of the countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis. Climate disasters impact all of its geography – coast, hills and river banks, and rural and urban areas. The frequency of heat waves and heavy precipitation events will likely increase significantly as the climate crisis accelerates. As vulnerability increases, resilience, a measure to withstand disasters, must be strengthened so that every hazard does not become a disaster. This requires systemic responses.

Realising the risk, government agencies have started planning and developing programmes. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and State Action Plans (SAPs) provide a strategic framework and investment guidelines. The National Adaptation Fund was launched in 2015 to fund adaptation programmes for the states and UTs that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of the climate crisis. India has also championed the establishment of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), which promotes climate action not only in India but also in many other countries.

Increasing urbanisation requires an emphasis on enhancing urban infrastructure, considering future needs and vulnerabilities. Crucially, disaster-proofing and management need to be incorporated into urban planning.

Cities, enabled by national and state policies, need to act. First, adequate finance must be allocated to the ministries of roads, urban infrastructure, power or telecom, as well as health and education. A proper accounting system will ensure robust data on expenses for disaster management at the city, state, and central levels. It is said that another additional 50% to 70% of infrastructure in India is yet to be built. There is an opportunity to develop and incorporate higher standards in the design and development of new infrastructure. The forthcoming budget for FY25 should enhance the allocation for disaster resilience and incentivise states to follow.

Second, the asset creation needs innovation. New design elements, improved construction practices, sustainable materials, and capacity development can go a long way to enhance resilience. Well-designed infrastructure development not only reduces damage but also increases the coping ability of the communities. For example, Southeast Asia’s longest multi-purpose tunnel, Kuala Lumpur’s Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel (SMART) Tunnel, simultaneously solves the problem of flash floods and traffic jams along the city’s main corridor.

Third, attention to operation and maintenance (O&M) is critical. Lack thereof was evident from this year’s Delhi floods, caused in part due to jammed floodgates on the Yamuna barrage. There have been instances where bridges, dams, and buildings have collapsed due to lack of maintenance. Poor operational practices are widespread, multiplying the negative fallout of extreme events. Simultaneously, early warning systems and practice drills need to be integrated into the operational procedures. Public-private partnerships can bring expertise, focus, and capital. These should be proactively encouraged for O&M in all large infrastructure projects. Since many sectors have dedicated regulators, they can take the lead on upgrading O&M standards and mandate benchmarking, independent audits, and certification.

Fourth, enabling policies to enhance climate finance for resilient infrastructure. For example, in the energy sector, decentralised renewable energy can enhance resilience by providing local backup, and supplying power in case of grid failure. A policy change to internalise the value of backup can enable additional finance and accelerate renewable energy deployment at the same time. The finance ministry can mandate that infrastructure projects adopt an economic lens to integrate resilience and long-term sustainability.

Finally, the above agenda requires well-qualified practitioners at all levels. Therefore, the higher education system would need to take cognisance and support knowledge development. Universities, IITs, IIMs, and schools of urban planning should upgrade curricula to enhance the capacity of urban planners, engineers, architects, and contractors as well as the medical and socio-economic disciplines. Engineering knowledge would have to expand in several dimensions. Likewise, climate financing and policy preparation for climate will need to be enhanced. Last but not least, overall understanding and general risk mitigation knowledge will be essential for communities and citizens to plan and cope.

With an average age of 28, India is young and dynamic. Investments to secure our future will yield high returns, social, political, and financial. A movement to enhance resilience across districts, cities, and communities needs to begin now.

Dr Jyoti Parikh is executive director, Integrated Research and Action for Development and Dr Gaurav Bhatiani is director (Energy and Environment), Research Triangle Institute, India. The views expressed are personal

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