Resilient Urban Infrastructure – Ensuring Access to Basic Services, Housing and Shelter Homes for Urban Poor

The webinar Climate Resilient Cities – Ensuring Access to basic services, housing and shelter Homes, is the first of four webinars touching upon various aspects of lives of the urban poor, their vulnerability to climate change and ways to build resilience.

The theme of this first webinar addresses infrastructure and access to basic services in urban centres of India, which has always been a matter of concern for urban poor. Poverty ghettos within the cities and in periphery that remain largely unserved, poor roads and pavements, open drainage, lack of adequate housing and shelters for homeless people and families – all this has been a long-standing challenge for urban poor. While a lot of progressive steps are being taken by the governments across the world to build climate resilience in the development framework, the impact of climate change on urban poor remains least understood and articulated. This webinar is an attempt to address this. 

Among the speakers were those who have worked extensively with urban poor communities. They were Mr. Sanjay Vashist, Director, CANSA, Ms. Jyoti Awasthi, Research Coordinator, CANSA, Dr. Indu Prakash Singh, Chairperson, Asha Kiran Complex (GNCTD), Ms. Vanessa Peter, IRCDUC, and Dr. Shiraz Wajih, President of Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG).

Mr. Sanjay Vashist started by talking about the recent IPCC report’s verdict on climate change. He mentioned humans have caused unprecedented irreversible change to climate. Also, humanity through its actions or lack of actions has unequivocally overheated the planet. He talked about IPCC on cities that intensify human induced warming locally. Urbanisation together with more frequent heat extremes will increase severity of heat waves and also increase mean and heavy precipitation over and downward of cities and resulting runoff intensity. In coastal cities, the combination of more frequent extreme sea- level events and extreme rainfall events will make flooding more probable.

Ms. Jyoti Awasthi explained that the webinar was about understanding how the urban poor are becoming victims of the climate change situation or climate impacts, and how we as civil society act together in solidarity with the urban poor to ask the government to look into aspects where urban development is not just about smart cities but about caring cities. They have to be caring for people who make it and who discount our lives in urban centres. We live our life conveniently because we have several people working for us. So they are subsidising our lives. Let us start comprehending and articulating the issues of urban poor as victims of climate change.

Ms. Vanessa Peter talked about Chennai facing destructive floods in December 2015. The city witnessed one of the most massive eviction drives carried out in the guise of conservation of water bodies and providing disaster resilient housing for the vulnerable communities. She talked about her work of enabling access to information on laws, policies and schemes and facilitating community action asserting their rights, establishing community resource and information hubs in informal and low-income settlements to ensure increased access to schemes and services. She mentioned how the Information and Resource Centre for Deprived Urban Communities has engaged in various advocacy initiatives to highlight the issues related to post-disaster displacement through its report. TNSCB in its response to this report has pointed out that it will not be constructing a mass housing project and that efforts are being taken to identify lands within Chennai city in coordination with various departments of the government. Vanessa concluded by saying all conservation and restoration programs and processes should include the active participation of poor and marginalised communities. They should be seen as contributors to the process, and not targeted and discriminated against because of their poverty.

Dr. Shiraz Wajih said if we are talking about the poor people we will have to think that the blue and green infrastructure is becoming so crucial. Environment of the city or around the city is becoming important in terms of climate resilience that the infrastructure will have to be conserved in the form of blue and green infrastructure, which will be beneficial to the marginalised communities and poor people. If you talk of the people who are dependent on the natural ecosystem in various forms, there is a good inter complementarity. If we talk about the climate change resilience or environment the city is much beyond that and peri urban spaces are becoming crucial in terms of the resilience which is provided to the cities. On one hand the Peri urban spaces or the city ecosystems they provide sustainability to the city, urban resilience to the city, or the flood buffers to the city like Gorakhpur.

Recommendations for a resilient city by the panellists:

Dr. Indu Prakash Singh talked about certain recommendations for a resilient city:

For State:

  • Regular assessment of the impact of environmental degradation on the homeless
  • Master plans for the cities need to address the issues impacting homelessness
  • Judge’s example: Mumbai High Court, Chief Justice needs to be oriented to using judicial academies for this role.
  • GNCTD was proactive in 2015; other state governments need to be proactive as well.
  • A policy brief for the government on tackling homelessness, empathetically National Urban Livelihood Mission 2013.

For Civil Society:

  • Innovative and proactive actions
  • Building teams
  • Inviting media larger civil society to support
  • Seeing every challenge as an opportunity
  • Interface with the state and local governments on regular bases
  • Approaching High Court if the SC orders are not implemented
  • Alliances are key to any mobilisation
  • Operating with the machine “every issue is our issue”
  • Supporting international voices being raised

Ms. Vanessa Peter recommendations:

For State:

  • The state should develop and implement a human right based gender sensitive disaster management plan that emphasises guidelines and minimum standards for relief and rehabilitation in accordance to the international standards. 
  • Revising the state or city disaster management plan to include targeted actions to address vulnerabilities of marginalised communities especially the urban homeless and those residing in informal low income settlements.
  • Need for recognising disaster risk reduction component in the housing and shelter programmes. Introducing risk assessment in identification of spaces for shelter and housing, integrating Green blue solutions in housing/ Shelter projects and to design resilient habitats.
  • Facilitating community led resilient plans that includes enhancing the capacities of communities to cope with climate related risks and disaster. To ensure enhanced participation of communities in all the policy formulation processes and in planning, implementation and evaluation stages.

For Civil Society:

  • To monitor and engage in state and city disaster management plans
  • To engage in campaigns to ensure inclusion of the issues of the most vulnerable communities in the climate justice discourses
  • To ensure enhanced participation of vulnerable groups in climate justice discourses
  • To facilitate community led resilient strategies in low income settlements and homeless clusters by enhancing capacities of communities
  • To ensure government civil society coordination for managing and mitigation and disaster risk
  • Identify and mobilise institutional structures within and outside communities and create an inventory of organisations/ services that are available for the most vulnerable sections.

Dr. Shiraz Wajih Recommendations:

  • Peri urban to be recognised officially as a defined space around city for its
  • Development and protection of natural ecosystem Peri urban farmers to be provided needed support for resilient farming and protection of common natural property
  • Land use changes in Peri urban to be checked maintaining the green areas as specified in master plans
  • Coordination amongst ULB and development authorities for discouraging
  • Encroachments by powerful builders lobby
  • Urban citizens to be made aware of contribution of Peri urban spaces and ecosystem and their active role in its protection

Recording of the webinar link :

Passcode: fY4fs=S0

By Divyanshi Yadav, Communication Assistant, CANSA