Climate change: Pressure on urbanisation

SO many words have been spoken on climate change; its effect on our well-being in terms of land and livelihood loss, its nefarious effect on environment and biodiversity etc. Many researchers have invested a significant amount of time on the economic and social impact of climate change. But one major issue has not been paid due attention to, which could arise as a major concern in the near future -- the effect of climate change on urban population; especially on urban health.
With 27% of the population living in the urban areas, why should one even bother about urban problems regarding climate change? Shouldn't we go for strategies and work plans that will make those living in the coastal areas adaptive to climate change? After all, this effect of climate change will have a severe blow by increasing the sea level from 0.18 to 0.79 metres (as forecasted by IPCC).
Increased salinity coupled with hot weather is believed to deteriorate the situation further. So, government policies and development organisations should focus more on the vulnerabilities of the rural coastal people's, right? The answer is a mere "yes" but not a strong one, because if you think ahead and think of a post-trauma or post-effect situation, the focus goes to the urban cities to a great extent too.
Climate change effect on human beings is multi-pronged. It doesn't affect people just physically, but also economically and socially -- through increasingly erratic climatic patterns, irregular and heavy rainfall, hot weather, drought. All together will be an exacerbating factor for our food security and if not food insecurity, then at least to food price inflation. Last year, food shortage and the resulting global food price inflation was largely attributed to extreme weather conditions.
When, due to the persistence of inclement condition, farmers don't get the chance to reap home the desired harvest, it creates a pressure on the supply side of the food situation. This results into an increase in food price. Again, as a net seller of food faces a greater loss than a net buyer of food, food price inflation thrusts people away from food production.
This will result into enticing people in urban city centres. This uncomfortable trend has already started to take place as many farmers have already been drawn into the pompous, promising life of metropolis. But with the fangs of capitalism ever searching for victims, these poor people fell prey to such a situation and normally find their place in urban slums.
Displacement from natural disasters such as Aila resulted into large exodus of rural people to urban people. This migration results into an unbearable pressure on urban utilities such as water and sanitation services.
Climate change is believed to affect our river system badly as the melting of Himalayan glaciers will result in higher flow of water in the river, which in turn will result into inundation and water logging in huge urban areas. The water supply of Dhaka city will face a great crisis as its source of water will not remain sustainable and people will not be able to get sufficient safe drinking water.
The statistics of FIRC -- 31 lakh people fall ill and die due to exposure to unsafe water -- will peril in comparison to the future that behold us. With prolonged floods, the sanitary system could breakdown totally and many vector borne diseases such as malaria, dangue, and water-borne diseases such as cholera, will witness an outbreak.
Due to poor sanitation public health faces a major setback and diseases will spread like wildfire. This will further result into emaciation of public health or, in the worst case, a significant loss of human resource.
It will also paralyse the urban life and lifestyle. With exodus of people into urban areas and concomitant pressure on urban offerings (for example, job opportunity) life in urban city will become more challenging. Many people will remain unemployed and so will add to the already degraded social order.
This, in turn, will increase crime and will lead to a social instability. Climate change adaptation techniques, GoB's action plan etc. have not paid due attention to this dimension of climate change.
High urban densities pose both opportunity and threat in terms of the vulnerability of the people. It poses a threat to populations when proper infrastructural and institutional frameworks are not present. This is .the case with many southern urban areas of Bangladesh. Again, suitable infrastructural and institutional frameworks can provide a viable alternative -- particularly for the urban poor.
So what we need to see is if there is any suitable structure in the policies set for our urban centres. Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, 2009 considered urban sector only for the urban drainage. Many other important factors of urban areas are not considered in this action plan. Latest Bangladesh Health, Nutrition and Population Sector Program (HPNSDP) document though highlighted climate change and highlighted some points, it has not provided any clear guideline regarding how the government will go for these programmes.
The budget of this fiscal year also has not mentioned specifically about government's plan of spending in urban sector regarding climate change adaptation strategy. So the government's ambitious plans are not grounded on a strong base which makes these plans shaky.
It is of paramount importance that we just not plan for today but also think ahead for the future. Our country is already facing a situation analogous to greasy pole and monkey, thanks to many natural disasters caused mainly by climate change. It is our plan to think ahead based on today's experience that can make our plans and strategies an effectual one. But what we are seeing is far from this; as major thrust of our action plan regarding climate change is largely ignored when addressing urban problems.
A national policy or strategy will see the light of success or at least be able to realise most of its aims when both short-term and long-term considerations are examined simultaneously. We have to remember that, if, once the water supply and sanitation system collapses due to adverse effect from climate change, it will be very hard to restore it.
So our government, along with development partners, needs to plan ahead in terms of the effect of climate change in the urban context. Doing this will not mean forgetting rural people, rather doing something for the rural people also when that fateful moment of migration of rural people become inevitable and natural disaster strikes the urban centres.

The writers are Development Researcher and a Senior Assistant Coordinator at Eminence, and Development Researcher and a Programme Officer at Islamic Relief Worldwide respectively.


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