January 20, 2020

Bhubaneswar needs to act fast to achieve sustainability

© Basudev Mahapatra
Bhubaneswar, set to transform into a smart city, is facing cyclonic storms and experiencing extreme weather events more frequently than a few decades ago, city dwellers observe.

According to experts, the state was hit by about 110 cyclones between 1891 and 2018. In 2019 alone, Bhubaneswar was badly hit by the very severe cyclonic storm Fani and narrowly escaped the wrath of another cyclonic storm Bulbul.

Placing temperature rise as the major culprit, climate science researchers believe that the city may have to see a harsher future. A study by the Climate Impact Lab in collaboration with the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago projects that the number of extremely hot days in the state is projected to increase 30 times from 1.62 in 2010 to 48.05 by 2100 in the absence of strong measures to control temperature rise.

Urging for a coherent strategy on building climate resilience across sectors and communities to limit the threat climate change and extreme weather events pose, the study has projected that Odisha could see a 3.32°C rise in average summer temperature from 28.87°C in 2010 to 32.19°C by 2100. While the state may have to see 42,334 excess climate-related deaths due to increase in temperature, “Its capital city, Bhubaneswar, may have to face the brunt of temperature rise,” said Amir Jina, one of the researchers.

Another research conducted by experts from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bhubaneswar and University of Southampton (UK) has found that rapid urbanisation combined with changes in land use pattern has led to about 1.8°C warming of Bhubaneswar, compared with surrounding non-urban areas, and caused urban heat island (UHI) effect. Tracing the reasons behind temperature rise in the city, the research notes that the rate of urbanisation being 83 per cent in past 15 years, changes in LULC (Land Use Land Cover) aggregates to a massive decrease of about 89 per cent and 83 per cent in dense vegetation and crop fields respectively during the reference period leading to UHI effect.

Threats from Heat Stress

As the trend goes, experts believe, such hot summer days and heat waves are set to become more common. Scientists apprehend that continued urbanisation will place more people in the cities vulnerable to urban heat island (UHI) effect, which can raise air temperatures by several degrees Celsius. As a result, extreme heat is poised to become one of the most significant and directly observable impacts of climate change in the coming decades.

According to assessments made in a report on increasing probability of mortality during Indian heat waves, published in the magazine Science Advances, heat wave days and the mean duration of heat waves have increased by approximately 25 per cent in the majority of India while parts of the country have experienced 50 per cent more heat wave events. Apprehending substantial increase in mortality rates due to either 0.5°C increase in summer mean temperature or to more heat wave days, the report warns that future climate warming could have a relatively drastic human toll in India and similarly in developing tropical and subtropical countries.

IPCC’s (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) fifth assessment report highlights that the last three decades in India were successively warmer. The changes in the climate patterns often lead to extreme temperatures and precipitation, drought, and other calamities.

Undergoing a transitional phase to become a smart city by virtue of new buildings and infrastructure for better services to its dwellers, the pertinent question is whether Bhubaneswar and its existing infrastructure are capable of withstanding the increasing heat stress under the influence of rising temperature and changing climate.

Impact of climate change being widely felt across Odisha, talking about its possible impact on Bhubaneswar has become very important as it may lead to high economic burden and deficient service provisions making life miserable, Mayarani Praharaj of College of Engineering and Technology (CET) pointed out.

Economic Fallout

Recent extreme weather events reveal the vulnerability of the built environment (infrastructure such as residential and commercial buildings, transportation, communications, energy, water systems, parks, streets, and landscaping) and its importance to how people live, study, recreate, and work, cautions the NCA4 reports on built environment, urban systems and cities. Similar are the projections made in IPCC’s fifth assessment report.

More specifically, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science research agency, warns that a changing climate including chronic factors like temperature and humidity as well as acute factors like extreme weather events will alter environmental conditions concrete is exposed to, particularly over the relatively long lifetime of most structures. This means that the concrete deterioration rate will increase with implications for the safety, serviceability and durability of infrastructure.

An Asian Development Bank (ADB) report says that countries of Asia will be among the worst affected by rising temperatures, extreme weather patterns and floods caused by climate change. The development bank of the region has subsequently claimed that it has since 2013 screened its investments for climate change implications, asking questions such as whether new cities, bridges and roads will be able to cope with more severe flooding and other threats.

Odisha, which has already been experiencing the effects of climate change and extreme weather conditions, the urban centres are vulnerable to natural hazards like cyclone, heat wave, urban flood, health, and earthquake, according to the Odisha State Action Plan on Climate Change for the period of 2018-2023. Rising temperatures and extended heat wave periods expedite damage to roads and pavements. Higher temperatures also affect rail networks through thermal expansion, the action plan confirms.

The magnitude of the damages caused by cyclonic storms induced by rising temperatures is too high. Odisha government’s damage assessment report on cyclone Fani estimated the total damage and loss at 24,176 crore. Even though mildly affected by cyclone Bulbul, the damage was proportionately high as an estimated 200,000 hectares of crops were damaged across the state. West Bengal which was hit by Bulbul had to suffer damage and loss of about23800 crore.

Act Fast

“Indian cities are key elements of the economic transformation that is being envisaged by the Government of India.

The challenge before the country is to make a drastic shift from an agriculture-based economy towards a manufacturing and services economy that can provide sustainable livelihoods for the Indian population,” says the Urban Green Growth Strategies for Indian Cities (Vol 1). It’s also projected that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050.

Therefore, as highlighted in the Urban Green Growth Strategies for Indian Cities, there is a desperate need for new policies and implementation of strategies that can generate positive social, environmental and economic impact. Without a radical change in the ‘business as usual’ paradigms, Indian cities will continue to achieve limited growth at the cost of very high resource consumption, which is unsustainable. The UN-Habitat guidelines also emphasise that environmental sustainability, equity and social inclusion, availability of infrastructure, productivity and quality of life are necessary for creating prosperity.

Bhubaneswar Smart City authorities and planners need to integrate climate change while planning new projects, opined Ramesh Swain, a leading architect and town planner of the city. He, however, doesn’t see heatwave events, increasing temperature and humidity as immediate threats to the city’s infrastructure.

The rising temperature may pose bigger threats to our infrastructure in the second half of this century, says Uma Charan Mohanty, visiting professor to the School of Earth, Ocean and Climate Sciences at IIT Bhubaneswar.

City-based architect Sagar Mohapatra observes, “With the land surface of the city transforming into a concrete floor and the green cover being squeezed rapidly, the crisis we talk about may come sooner than our expectations if the city doesn’t wake up to these issues and act promptly.”

While the climate-smart cities project attempts to anchor climate-friendly solutions, the other project aims to improve the planning processes and the implementation of sustainable and integrated urban transport systems and solutions. However, according to sources at BSCL, it is at an initial stage, and there is still a long way to go on climate change action.

At present, urban planners and administrators must understand that we need to act fast as delay may prove to be more dangerous increasing the burden on the city.

This piece was first published on UrbanUpdate.in.

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