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Building resilient infrastructure pertinent to face climate extremities: Amit Prothi

Climate extremities create an extra burden on developing economies, where they grapple with building new infrastructure while operating the existing ones, director general, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, writes

Published: Sep 1, 2023 04:13:48 PM IST
Updated: Sep 1, 2023 04:55:42 PM IST

Building resilient infrastructure pertinent to face climate extremities: Amit Prothi People walk on a makeshift bridge above a waterlogged street in Ahmedabad Image: Amit Dave/ Reuters

Climate extremities have gripped the world and its impacts on people and infrastructure are increasingly evident. Europe is grappling with record-breaking heatwaves with temperatures in Italy soaring to 45°C. Guatemala had declared a state of emergency in the wake of the damages caused by Hurricane Julia last October. The Central American country continues to face heavy rainfall and strong winds since May this year. In Asia, northern parts of India witnessed record rainfall in July this monsoon, resulting in flooding in various parts of Delhi, as river Yamuna spilled over, displacing people and disrupting livelihoods.

Building resilient infrastructure pertinent to face climate extremities: Amit ProthiThe latest IPCC (AR6—WGII Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) states that 40 percent of the world’s population is vulnerable to impacts caused by climate change, while 1 billion people are at risk from coastal hazards. Target D of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 also emphasises resilience of critical infrastructure and significant reduction in disaster-related damage. Hence, a focus on Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (DRI) is a promising pathway towards sustainable development. The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) speaks about ‘The Resilience Dividend’ in its report on Global Infrastructure Resilience to be launched in October.

The Significance of DRI

DRI is defined as infrastructure systems and networks, the components, and assets thereof, and the services they provide, that can resist and absorb disaster impacts, maintain adequate levels of service continuity during crises, and swiftly recover in such a manner that future risks are reduced or prevented.

Critical public infrastructure systems such as power, telecommunications, transport, water, education, and health form the foundation over which countries grow their economies. In the developing world, well-functioning critical infrastructure systems are vital for the well-being of citizens, their livelihoods, and crucial in pursuance of their economic goals. Climate extremities create an extra burden on them where they grapple with building new infrastructure while effectively operating the existing infrastructure. As the world urbanises with a greater share of GDP coming from urban economy, vitality of such critical infrastructure becomes even more pertinent.

The failure of one interconnected infrastructure system during a natural hazard can cause a cascading effect on others, paralysing service delivery networks. For example, a power grid failure can disrupt data centres, affecting communications and leaving people and businesses in disarray. That’s where the role of DRI becomes crucial in enhancing overall disaster resilience.

The increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazards as ushered in by climate change is stressing existing infrastructure beyond its design limits with an emerging risk of collapse. The surge in operating costs after a natural hazard can create substantial spillover effects on society and the economy. For instance, it is estimated that, by 2030, in absence of significant investments in making cities more resilient worldwide, natural hazards may cost cities $314 billion annually. Hence, a shift towards DRI and adaptive urban planning is critical for enhancing human well-being.

Also read: How can we protect the Mahadayi / Mandovi river?

The Indian advantage

The Global Climate Risk Index 2021 had ranked India 7th in the list of most affected countries in terms of exposure and vulnerability to climate risk events. By 2035, around 675 million people in India are expected to become urban residents. The government has taken cognizance of the fact and recognised this opportunity by unveiling a Gati Shakti Plan that comprises multi-sectoral infrastructure schemes across ministries and state governments. It earmarked $1.3 trillion for the development of integrated infrastructure in the coming 25 years. As most of the infrastructure required to achieve SDGs and to sustain the increasing urban population is yet to be built, herein lies an opportunity to integrate DRI perspectives in the planning of infrastructure projects.

In the context of Indian urban areas, a degree of progress has already been made in constructing resilient buildings, through stricter construction codes. In addition, smart city projects have been integrating elements of climate resilient infrastructure, emphasising the need for more sustainable and resilient urban development.

Building resilient infrastructure pertinent to face climate extremities: Amit Prothi

For instance, in Rajkot, Gujarat, a focussed strategy to tackle water stress and seasonal flooding includes investments in groundwater recharge structures and a watershed-level study to identify micro watersheds. Key improvements in the storm drainage system and specific locations for effective groundwater recharge were pinpointed. 

In 2018, when Kerala floods destroyed over 10,000 km of roads and affected 25 percent of the state’s major routes, cutting off connectivity for several communities, the state government launched the Rebuild Kerala Development Programme (RKDP). It is rebuilding 7,000 km of roads in a climate-resilient manner, using a GIS-based road maintenance management system including a seven-year maintenance contract model.

Also read: It's time to build a resilient green economy that is diverse and inclusive

Opportunity for mainstreaming disaster risk assessments

Understanding of risks, such as changing cyclonic patterns from global warming, can help inform adjusted standards for future construction. Building codes and design standards offer a pathway to integrate resilience into multi-sectoral infrastructure planning, design, and implementation, as seen in earthquake-resistant buildings. An opportunity lies in enhancing the capacities of those responsible for planning and building infrastructure. This encompasses choices from appropriate siting and innovative design of infrastructure to regular day-to-day maintenance. For example, designing infrastructure responding to risks posed by flood-prone areas or ensuring drain cleaning before monsoon season, both can impact an infrastructure system’s resilience to disasters.

Infrastructure risk assessments are the crucial first step in identifying the vulnerabilities of existing infrastructure. Airports and other transport sub-sectors, power, and the telecommunications sector must conduct disaster risk assessments at regular intervals and develop appropriate risk mitigation measures. Cities and towns should also mandate localised assessments to provide data for comprehensive, customised local planning. Incorporating climate and disaster-resilient infrastructure through risk-informed urban and rural planning requires a multi-faceted approach involving data, driving investments, policy interventions and capacity building of various stakeholders.

Also watch: Too hot to handle: World hits record high temperature

Resilient way forward

The resilient way forward in India will require facilitating an enhanced understanding of disaster risks from all major hazards in multiple geographical contexts through GIS-based mapping and information platforms, data-informed infrastructure planning and asset management, boosting risk-informed investments, early warning systems and other innovative technologies. Multilateral financial institutions can significantly support the above initiatives funding and technical assistance. This must go hand in hand with equipping local governments and communities with the knowledge and tools to implement resilient infrastructure practices.

Empowering DRI in India presents a great opportunity for achieving sustainable development. A resilient future for India and the world cannot be envisioned without having DRI as its main focal point.

The writer is director general, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, launched by the Indian government in 2019

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