Patna diary: Analysing its Urban systems

Patna diary: Analysing its Urban systems

Every city depends upon certain core systems to run smoothly and efficiently. Water, sewerage, solid waste management and drainage; without these urban systems, a city would simply collapse. And on these core systems are build the secondary systems that make a city living worthwhile; like public health and sanitation.

What is the status of these urban systems in the city of Patna? Has climate change added to their vulnerability? A quick look at the existing conditions in the capital of Bihar.

Waste galore!

The city generates about 1000 metric tonnes of solid waste per day, but only has the capacity to dispose 65 percent of the total generated solid waste. Which means that an equivalent of  more than 30 trucks of garbage are being thrown haphazardly, every single day on the streets of Patna.

The 870 waste collection centres inside the city are acutely insufficient for this populous city of 16.8 lakh people. And so, people simply chuck out all their garbage at any convenient dumping place, more so in open, unused land. Increase in temperature aids its decomposition, and this turns into a messy, soggy spot where the mosquitoes happily breed in.  And when it rains, areas get waterlogged, polluting the close by water bodies and the groundwater below.

Waste that is collected through tractors or other open vehicles, spills over into the roads during transportation. The roads remain dirty, smelly and unhygienic. Most of the waste is dumped on to a waste site, about 22 km away from the city, without any form of segregation or treatment. Families that live near this landfill have to deal with the stench, disease conducive environment that takes a toll on their health.

Drained Out…

The city has 460 km of pucca drain, 340 km of kuccha drain and 1200 km of underground drain, which prove inadequate, with the city regularly in the throes of waterlogging.  The eastern zone, the old city area is riddled with narrow lanes, a major hindrance in setting up of an effective drainage system. The western zone is dotted with pumping stations which the municipal corporation has installed as a counter measure against the acute waterlogging faced on a regular basis. And many areas in the southern zone are still without any drainage facility whatsoever.

People dump their garbage and debris directly into the drains, which tends to block the flow of water in them, and the filth laden water, simply overflows onto the open land. In many places, the cleaning of the drains is not carried out regularly or the drains being old and decrepit are unable to handle the water content.  Many houses have been constructed above these drains, thus obstructing the path of the drained water. Waterlogging, is thus on the rise.


The city has its own underground sewerage system, four sewerage treatment plants and a 24 km long sewer pipeline. But, only 20 percent of the houses in the entire city are connected to the underground sewer and nearly 80 percent of the families use a septic tank and a cost effective toilet which pollutes the underground water. More importantly, the water supply line and the sewerage lines follow the same path. With the passage of time, wear and tear of the pipelines has occurred and water from the sewerage line enters the water supply line, thereby polluting it.

With limited public toilets, increased slum population with inadequate toilet facilities and the migrant population that comes to the city, the present sewerage situation is definitely inadequate.

Drinking water

Patna city depends upon groundwater for its drinking water provisions. 98 tube wells, 190 km pipeline, 30000 public stand posts and around 23000 public hand pumps are there in the city. Inspite of this, water reaches only 60 percent of the house; the bereft 40 percent makes do with shallow pumps.

Besides this, there are other problems too. The water pipelines leak at several places, an invitation to pollution and also causing a loss of nearly 40 percent of a precious resource. Many of the pipes criss-cross the existing roads, and are thus difficult to maintain and repair, affecting their water carrying capacity. Other places they choke and burst, and the drain water pollutes the drinking water in the area.

The quality of the drinking water too is questionable. Every day Patna belches out 224 MLD of sewage, of which half enters the river Ganges, while the other half is left to pollute the groundwater. There are four sewage treatment plants with a capacity of 150 MLD, but only 50 MLD reaches them. Sanitation

Patna ranked at a lowly 746, in a cleanliness survey conducted by the Government of India in 2016. Of the total 1796.23 acres of unplanned land, nearly 12 percent is encroached with haphazard waste management and sewerage services. More than 436 slums in the city face problems of cleanliness facilities, water drainage system and solid waste disposal issues, and more than three lakh people depend on shared public toilets for their primary sanitation need, many of which are in a broken, dilapidated condition.

Presently, there are 105 public toilet complexes connected to the sewerage system, and only 15-20 per cent of the sewage system is covered. Even though sewage is disposed through septic tanks and soak pits in the city, it flows directly from the septic tanks into the open drains and into the rivers during monsoons.


An expanding Patna is trying to fit in the increased population and regular flow of migrants into the city, and the result is unplanned urbanization and even sabotaging of the flood plain areas and existing wetlands to make place for the increasing populace. Dense settlements, tight streets and cramped, badly ventilated homes are taking a toll on the health of the children. Safety in such packed environment is short-charged more so for the young adolescent girls here.

There are 107 slums in the city and nearly one fourth of the population resides here, most of which are ramshackle places, right next to the drains. Shivpuri, one of the sums is located on the railway land, and has no hand pump for water, and obviously no toilet too. There is no system for waste collection, which simply piles up near the houses here. When the drains are cleaned the muck from the drain is simply dumped in front of the houses, without any thought of health or hygiene.

Ecosystems loss

In the march to urbanization, Patna is fast losing its green cover and existing water bodies. Unchecked dumping of garbage or raw sewage in these water bodies is slowly killing them. As per Master Plan 2030, only one percent of the area is occupied by waterbodies. In Phulwari Sharif, located near the AIIMS in Patna, a 17 acres pond has reduced to mere 3-4 acres. Not only has the size been cut down drastically, but new colonies have sprung up all around this diminishing pond, and the sewage from here is directly flowing into this lost body.

Agricultural land around the city has been taken over by brick kilns. The biodiversity of the peri-urban areas is being affected and the livelihood of the marginal farmers is at stake here.

This is the 3rd blog based on an excerpt from ‘Children-Focused City Resilience Action Strategy for Patna Urban’, a report published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported by UNICEF, India.

You may read here the

1st blog ‘Patna diary: How a changing climate is making its presence felt ‘

2nd blog’ Patna diary: A city under stress


Patna diary: A city under stress

Patna diary: A city under stress

Patna, the capital of Bihar, is an expanding city, both in terms of area and population. Climate change impacts are being felt across this metropolis and it is the more vulnerable, the marginalised, who find it increasingly difficult to cope and respond to such climate change induced extreme events. The city faces the challenges of urban flooding, unplanned infrastructure development and seems to be already on the way to be stressed out.

The water effect

Waterlogging is already rampant, and its reach has increased vastly with more regions experiencing it. Destruction of water bodies and building over open spaces have reduced the water holding capacity of the city, and turned the city even more fragile.  And of course, it is the poor and the marginalised who face the brunt of this. They are the ones who usually live in these at risk areas, and their homes and lives are both disrupted when such events occur. Water easily enters their low-lying houses, especially in the slum areas. The men and women lose out on their daily wages, their source of income, as they run around trying to salvage their homes and belongings. For the children, it means missing out on school, even as the roads to these areas gets inundated. In other case, the schools themselves may shut down due to the heavy downpour, cutting short a child’s educational journey.

Patna not only has insufficient drains, but also an inadequate sewage system. Open drains dot the city and there is an absence of an effective waste management system. And so in the waterlogging prone areas, when heavy rains lash, the drains engorged with the heavy load, simply spill out all that right onto the streets.  There this contaminated water lies for days, seeping into the ground and contaminating the groundwater. For the mosquitoes, a convenient breeding ground is ready, but a major health issue for the inhabitants.

Rising heat

More heat and more cold, it is getting colder and warmer, both the extreme temperatures are on the rise. Use of air conditioners is on the rise as is the incidents of heat strokes. Homes are poorly ventilated dependent upon power based on fossil fuels; green areas are vanishing, land becoming concretised and water bodies disappearing fast.  All this is adding to the heat island effect in the city. For more days now, the duration of temperature regime that between 10-20 0C, a range conducive to mosquito breeding, has increased. Obviously, water-borne diseases too are on the rise.

Periods of extreme humidity have increased, and the interplay of increased temperature and humidity has created a more problematic and unhealthy environment.

Not my concern

A large floating population moves into the city every single day in search of daily wages. A feeling of responsibility and lack of ownership by the people adds to the vulnerability factor in the city. Encroachments, loss of blue-green spaces, lack of enforcements of Master Plan, poor governance mechanisms and administration of basic services; All these exacerbate an already frail condition.

The stress and the shocks that the community face, more so the marginalised communities, are on an upward swing. Urban floods, waterlogging, sun stroke and a sudden increase in diseases; all these add to the stress of the people living in the city. A shortage of toilets can thus have both sanitation and health ramifications. All this spills over in the form of physical, mental or financial duress for the community.

Stressed out in the city

All these factors enhance the climate risks in the city, giving rise to umpteen shocks and stresses that render people who are marginalized and live in the fragile settlements of the city, even more vulnerable. The impact is much more on the children, who are affected to a greater extent.

This is the 2nd blog based on an excerpt from ‘Children Focused City Resilience Action Strategy for Patna Urban’, a report published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported by UNICEF, India.

You may read the 1st blog ‘Patna diary: How a changing climate is making its presence felt ‘ right here.

Patna diary: How a changing climate is making its presence felt

Patna diary: How a changing climate is making its presence felt

The climate is a-changing in Patna. For the last 30 years, rainfall pattern has shown a downward trend, and every passing year the city is experiencing lesser and lesser rain. Simultaneously, the number of days of very heavy rainfall has increased in the last twenty years. Winter season is warmer, even though both the minimum and maximum temperatures have risen significantly. Summer is longer, and has extended towards March. And there are more days with a temperature above 400 C, with the years 2005, 2010, 2012 and 2014 recording the highest number of days above 400 C temperature.

And that is today.

Looking ahead at the future projected changes expected in both temperature and rainfall across Patna, and a grim picture emerges. By 2050, a nearly 20C rise is expected in both the minimum and maximum temperatures. There may be upto a four times increase in extreme rainfall events and the city will have to brace up for more hot days, warm nights and heavier monsoons.

Add to this risk induced climate cocktail, the unplanned infrastructure booming in the city, and the vulnerability rises further. As it is the city Patna is already hazard-prone, what with being nestled in a low slope gradient, lying in a saucer shaped topography, close vicinity to three rivers and with a high groundwater table. A 60 mm rainfall in 24 hours and the city in its present state is unable to cope with it even today.  Imagine the city in the future, what havoc this climate change and unchecked urbanisation will bring forth?

And the children, more so those who live in impoverished conditions, the urban poor, will be affected the most. Mosquitoes breed and flourish in this conducive environment created by increased humidity content in the air and rising mean temperature. Rampant waterlogging, unhygienic sanitation and congested living areas will only make things worse. With more vector- borne diseases on the rise, there can only be more ill health for the young.

Erratic rain patterns affect the food growing capability of land, especially for the small and marginal farmers in the peri-urban areas of the city. Agricultural fields gobbled up by the fast paced urbanisation, directly impact both the food production and diversity in the area. Needless to say, the children health will be affected.

The total number of children in the range of 0-6 years in Patna city is 203,041 of which 5 per cent live in the slum areas (Census of India, 2011). A child’s immune system is underdeveloped; they are at a far greater risk to disease, ill health and stress. And with climate change upsetting an already precarious balance, children are compelled to face difficulties in accessing education, may develop psychological stress and witness nutritional challenges, even as their individual growth and development is under threat.

This blog is based on an excerpt from ‘Children Focused City Resilience Action Strategy for Patna Urban’, a report published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported by UNICEF, India.

Our plastic world: Time to say goodbye

Our plastic world: Time to say goodbye

The sun beats down brutally this May morning, prodding me to hurriedly find a place to rest my blistering feet in. I step into the cool shade of an open eatery, just to the side of the road and ask for a large, iced glass of ‘nimboopani’. Greedily slurping each mouthful through a straw, my temperature drops down a few notches, and my eyes blinded by the glare are willing to open up again.

I look around, and see this plastic world around me. Shiny red tables, dancing balloons, trays, clean cutlery, a laminated menu and even the pictures framed on the walls, all are under the garb of some form of plastic. Well, it’s a public place, and I guess they really can’t cut down on their plastic dependence?  I, on the other hand, am a contentious citizen, and actually care about the world. And just out of curiosity, I empty my bag on the table

Out fall my keychain, a comb, pens, a tiny sunscreen bottle, my cards, a carry bag and a small water bottle, all plastic.  Plastic hoops in the ears, plastic clips to keep my unruly hair in place, plastic buttons on my shirt to keep me decent and even quirky plastic sandals on my feet. I am a walking, talking poster on plastic!

Apparently, I am not the only one pitching wholeheartedly into this worldwide malaise.

Every second, more than 15,000 plastic bottles are purchased; every minute a full garbage truck of plastic ends up in the ocean[i]; every hour so many plastic bags are consumed that if put one after another they can go around the world 7 times[ii]; And every year the amount of plastic produced is roughly the same as the entire weight of all of us humans put together![iii]

And to top it all, we callously discard nearly 50 % of the plastic after a single use; forgetting that this 15-second use plastic bag or straw will outlive our children, grandchildren and still be around for another 100 of years, atleast!

How did we not notice this unwavering march of plastic? Did the easy, convenient and versatile shine of a clean plastic object, blind us to its continuing deadly aftermath? And yes, there is a sordid end to all the plastic we casually use and so thoughtlessly discard, whether we understand it totally or not.

Not only does plastic pollute our oceans, kill marine life, but it has somehow managed to wriggle into our food chain itself. It is there in the oceans, in our food and now in our bodies. Toxic chemicals from some plastic throwaways leach into the soil, seeping and polluting our waterways and today we may even be breathing in micro-plastic particles laden with chemicals [iv].

Nobody is talking of a blanket ban on all plastics; they are irreplaceable in many places, occasions and instances. What we are talking about is saying a simple ‘no’ where we can.  People did live plastic‘less’ lives before, and so can we.  Every plastic straw not used, each plastic bag not carried for groceries, and all the plastic reused instead of being dumped unceremoniously after a single use, is that much less plastic to pollute our ocean and earth.

And to do that, we can take these tiny steps…

Watch yourself and your purchases diligently, refuse every single-use plastic offered to you in life Environmental Awareness, even when given as a freebie. And if you are part of an organization, do what we at GEAG do. Talk, discuss and share this knowledge with others. Encourage children and students, the citizens of tomorrow, to truly appreciate the downside of plastic use, just as we at GEAG have been doing regularly, continuously. Use community leverage to make authorities lay down stricter vigil and better enforcement of rules, instead of half-hearted lukewarm slogans and political posturing.

Environmental Awareness-Banning Polythene

The time to do that is today, right now, and right here. Else, we may soon find that our ever-increasing plastic world is simply becoming bigger and bigger with no place for anything else; And the first ones to be ousted from this may just be us. Let us celebrate this World Environment Day, not just on June 5, but every single day, together, by simply saying ‘Goodbye’ to plastic.

This blog is in tune with the World Environment Day on June 5, 2018, for which India is the global host and which advocates” Beat Plastic Pollution” as the theme this year.

 [i] India to host World Environment Day 2018

[ii] Whats the problem with plastic bags 

[iii]  A million plastic bottles per year 

[iv] Scientist warns we could be breathing in microplastic particles laden with chemicals



WASHed away: Can ‘Nature for Water’ stem the tide for the urban poor children?

WASHed away: Can ‘Nature for Water’ stem the tide for the urban poor children?

Ritesh is a happy child. Holding gamely on to his faded knickers, he splashes in the knee deep slushy water, winning a hard fought battle against the hot sun overhead. Screams of joy fill the air as he and his friends jostle, pushing and poking the plastic, peels and other unmentionables that float their way.

A fourteen year old, he lives near a nallah, in the Nehru Nagar slum in Patna. For him, this festering, open nallah that overflows in the rains is a childhood solace, not a menace. And even though, many of his friends and neighbours fall ill, when the drain spills over, the public toilets choke or the garbage simply rots on the roads, for him this is home.

In Mutyamamba Colony, close to the road along Chakali Gedda, a big open drain in
Visakhapatnam, children play near garbage mounds, unconcerned.Nine-year old Pallavi rummages in the waste looking for something interesting to play with. Nagamma her mother, a frail woman in a blue sari, when asked as to why her daughter was playing near the drain, eyes downcast replies softly, “This is the only open space close that she can play in with her friends from school. When it rains, even this becomes inaccessible.” In another slum, three year old Adarsh, nonchalantly takes a bath outside his home near an open drain.

Not just for these three, such water and sanitation issues stalk urban poor children across the country. Water- borne diseases, skin infections and unsafe drinking water put their childhood at risk, and hamper their growth and development. Even where there are toilets, many times, open defecation becomes the only answer, as Manisha, a class ten student, who lives under the Chitkhora flyover in Patna, says “‘ How can I use the community toilet? It is so dark and dirty, and there’s has no lock on the door.”

Admittedly, the urban spaces themselves are under tremendous pressure to meet these demands, what with a constant inflow of migration, growing population and an ageing, inadequate infrastructure on their hands. And when land becomes a premium, the green, open areas give way to a concretised, grey city, even as ecosystems are trampled over in a haste to become urban.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is at the centre of a child’s survival and
development. WASH is also important for maintaining a good health, nutritional status and quality education for children. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets an ambitious Goal 6 dedicated to WASH which envisions “global, sustainable and equitable access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene”. It also calls for complete elimination of open defecation by 2030. But as per the current global status on open defecation, we still have a long way to go for eliminating this malpractice.

Globally, 946 million people are defecating in open as per the available data of the year 2016 (UNICEF, Strategy for WASH, 2016). The water systems are unsustainable in most of the developing countries with unevenly spread water supply networks, deteriorating water quality and growing problems of water stress. The impacts of climate change are first felt through water, and it is the urban poor children who bear the maximum negative impact. Climate-induced disasters severely affect the infrastructure and services related to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.

A collaborative effort of GEAG and UNICEF, India– ‘Building Climate Change and Disaster Resilience for Urban Children, Interventions in four cities: Bhopal, Patna, Udaipur and Visakhapatnam’, to understand these challenges, its implications and the possible solutions was undertaken across four cities that represent varied agro-climatic zones. The urban poor children are the “most at-risk” children, and are frequently exposed to physical hazards such as polluted water, open sewer system, lack of toilets and unhygienic local environment. The project aimed to understand child-focused climate change and disaster vulnerabilities in different geo-agro- climatic zones and identified resilience actions in collaboration with local governments, communities and children.

Udaipur revealed a deterioration of its natural rivers and lake based ecosystems, open defecation in the city’s surrounding vacant and agricultural land. Patna is plagued by acute flooding and water-logging in the city, while Bhopal faces droughts and water scarcity with a major deficit of potable water, even as the available water from lakes is contaminated. Both cities confront the headache of inadequate water and sanitation infrastructure, open sewerage drains and unplanned solid waste dumping. Visakhapatnam addresses issues of inadequate storm water drainage, waterlogging, choking of existing drains, saline water intrusion and open defecation in urban low income settlements.

The WASH challenges in these urban spaces are many, but, there are answers that are nature based, which we need to focus on. Rainwater harvesting is an age old practice that needs very little inputs. It can be a rich repository of fresh water through the simple collection of the rainwater falling. What is missing is a mandating of rainwater at the premises itself, especially in schools and public or government buildings. With ample water, a clean toilet, which is a major disturbing fact for their usage by an urban child, can be achievable.

Cities are prone to frequent flooding, with the urban sprawls facing the brunt. A simple exercise along with the community, to unblock natural drainage system and its catchment area will go a long way to reduce this. Peri-urban agriculture encouraged in the periphery of the urban areas will be a source of a diverse food basket and health improvement. Open green spaces, if encouraged, will act as buffer areas for excess water and runoff, rather than be on a wish list for further construction. These green areas/ water bodies need be addressed to when land use allocation happens, so as to promote natural water recharges mechanisms to ensure water security in the longer run. Conservation and restoration of water bodies can follow a natural cleaning process as that followed in the manner of ‘floating gardens’ in Patna.

Wetlands and water are intertwined; they act as a sponges for water runoff; help in water storage, flood mitigation, groundwater recharge and water purification; and nurture a diverse and unique ecosystem within them. Protecting the wetlands for enhancing the quality of water for human settlements has massive benefits and in the urban context, their importance increases dramatically, especially for the children. A sanctuary for the dwindling fauna, an open available area, it’s blending within a city will only aid an urban poor child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Nature has the capacity to decompose all organic material. If the urban garbage is
segregated and its organic component collected and composted at the local level itself, not only will be the roads and the drains be cleaner and more hygienic, but water pollution too will reduce. It is the high time to switch to “Environmentally Sustainable WASH” while stressing on management of faecal waste, solid waste, drainage and ensuing urban ecosystem based interventions for water safety and security. This will ultimately reduce the threats to development and well-being of urban poor children while promoting good sanitation and hygiene.

It is time for the ‘grey’ infrastructure of a city to add a little ‘green’ to their palette; to advocate for rainwater harvesting structures at school and household level, green roofs, re-vegetation of impermeable surfaces , drainage basins, constructed wetlands, vertical gardens and permeable pavements for better water absorption, and to retain runoff and recharge groundwater. This will yield positive results in terms of water availability, water quality and flood reduction in the urban areas.

Nature offers many such answers, all we need is to unearth them, and follow them through courageously, so that tomorrow, Ritesh, Pallavi, Adarsh and many such urban poor children like them, can play in the monsoon, without soaking in the polluted drain water or grappling in the garbage, which today threatens to seep into their life, health and future.

This blog has been contributed by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG)  in tune with the World Water Day, 2018, theme of ‘Nature for Water” .


Why Delhi needs its Wetlands: The Okhla Bird Sanctuary

Why Delhi needs its Wetlands: The Okhla Bird Sanctuary

The Okhla Bird Sanctuary wetlands are part of the natural wealth of Delhi, a city on the banks of the river Yamuna. One of the most productive ecosystems of the world, wetlands contribute to reducing disaster risk by serving as natural protective barriers or buffers,  mitigating hazard impacts.

But the wetlands on the corridor of Yamuna are rapidly diminishing due to human induced activities and are today one of the most threatened ecosystems, with the pressure for conversion of wetlands for developmental purposes growing exponentially every single day.

A rivers playground stolen

Floods are not new to Delhi. In 1978, the capital witnessed one of the worst ever flood, and when 130 villages and 25 urban colonies in Delhi were submerged in water. In 2010, when the September rainfall was 180% more than the normal and water levels in Yamuna crossed the danger mark, destructive floods again hit the city. The river water was further squeezed as a chunk of the floodplain, size of the Commonwealth Games Village, was no longer available for it as it was for centuries. And so, the floods again created havoc.

Today, urban floods are a regular nuisance. Heavy rains are not only to blame. The entire river bed in the west, between the ring road and the stream, has been swallowed up in the name of construction and development. Instead of the open land, it now hosts a thermal power plant, politicians and leaders samadhis and the Millenium bus depot. Encroachment, uncontrolled siltation, weed infestation and uncontrolled discharge of effluents and wastewater, have made the floodplains even more vulnerable.

No place to run

Ponds have disappeared under newly made bridges and flyovers; and unplanned and erratic urbanisation has altered the drainage characteristics of natural catchments. Concretised areas don’t allow water to seep in, increasing the volume of surface runoff. The existing drains, already choked with indiscriminate solid waste disposal, are unable to cope with this extra heavy load. Both of these, inadequate drainage and uncontrolled development, are a major reason for urban floods, a perennial occurrence in the city today.

Why the wetland matters

The floodplains of the river Yamuna, more than 90 sq. km area, boasts of forests, agricultural fields, settlements, lakes and ponds, besides an array of floral and faunal diversity. And it also has the capacity to hold 2 billion cubic meters of water. The maximum width of the floodplain is observed near Okhla, where the Bird Sanctuary, a rich biodiversity habitat exists.

The wetland and the availability of water near Okhla throughout the year helps maintain minimum water level required for functioning of the floodplain. The surplus water during monsoon percolates down, and helps control floods and also maintain moisture regimes during lean periods. Bio accumulation of key nutrients in floodplain also helps to reduce pollution stress.

Besides these, it provides ecosystem services like groundwater recharge, excess water storage, disease regulation, carbon sequestration, shelter belt and thermal regulation in the hot summers. A source of livelihood, water and fish, the wetlands support recreational and educational activities too.

The fertile floodplain supports vegetable farming, horticulture and floriculture, ensuring a regular income for the communities living here. For the city, it helps in disaster risk reduction by addressing hazards such as drought, floods and epidemics, and reducing its vulnerability.

Thus these wetlands ecosystems provide various tangible and intangible benefits both to the urban society and other associated dependent ecosystems, on a sustainable basis. And integration of ecosystem services of these very wetlands in the DRR framework can work as a strategy to reduce exposure and vulnerability, and enhance livelihood capacities as well as resilience of the city.

This blog is based on an excerpt from ‘Urban Resilience and Sustainability through Peri-Urban Ecosystems: Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’, a Process Guidance and Training Handbook, published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported under the ACCCRN initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The plight of the Peri Urban space: 4 cities under the lens

The plight of the Peri Urban space:  4 cities under the lens

Cities are expanding mercilessly, engulfing open fields, flood plains and water bodies that lie unsuspecting on its outer fringes. In a rush to cater to the exploding population, both resident and migrated, these cities are changing a versatile, self sufficient landscape into a depleted, degraded zone. These transition spaces, known as peri-urban area, are at a crossroad, caught between the development furore and a decaying or destroyed ecosystem.

Here, we look at these growing cities across the country, to see how urbanisation has brought in drastic changes in both the topography and adaptability of these peri-urban areas.

Jorhat, Assam

A fast growing town, Jorhat lies on the banks of two tributaries of the mighty river Brahmaputra. Prone to recurrent flooding and water logging, the situation in the peri-urban areas is projected to worsen, with the advent of climate change related extreme and short spells of rainfall.

Between 1962 and 2005, the land use pattern has shifted drastically, and open areas and water bodies have both disappeared with alarming frequency. The vacant land has reduced by more than 50%, area under parks and playgrounds by nearly 8%, while the land area under roads and railways increased by more than 45%.

Needless to say, this jump in the covered area has reduced the capacity of the land to absorb water, increasing the surface water to flow faster, and accumulate in the low lying areas, resulting in prolonged bouts of waterlogging.

10-15 years ago, more than 60% houses had a resident water body in their premises. High land value, urbanisation pressure and climate change has slashed this number by more than half. Locally available bamboo used for houses construction earlier, has been replaced with cement to create RCC structures. Forests have been lost and orchards cut. Rain fed farming is practised, but with no irrigation facilities or integrated market available in the peri-urban areas.

Change in land use patterns, shrinking ecosystems and low income from agriculture is aiding distressed sale of land. GEAG is working with these peri-urban farmers to learn techniques of low external inputs and climate resilient agriculture, integrated farming that incorporates horticulture, fisheries etc. Growing high value crops and also increasing crop diversity, too is being encouraged for farming to turn more sustainable for the farmers.

Basirhat, West Bengal

On the border with Bangladesh, peri-urban areas of North 24-Parganas are on the fast track to urbanisation. An additional issue of a huge migration influx has deteriorated the existing ecosystems services here with 5-8% of agricultural land conversion to residential dwellings in the last one decade. Rampant encroachment has gobbled up the water bodies, and 30% ponds are now contaminated due to hybrid fish rearing. Drinking water, hygiene and sanitation issues now plague the poor.

Earlier local varieties of fish were bred, but due to better commercial viability, catfish, which usually is reared in dirty water, is more prevalent, adding to the contamination of groundwater and the environment.

Saharsa, Bihar

Situated in the northern part of the country, it is a flat, alluvial plane in the Kosi river basin. Facing the brunt of floods, nearly every year, the changing river has lead to high soil erosion in the area.

For the poor it is easier to settle in the flood afflicted, low lying areas, more so in the piece of land between the river and its embankment. Open areas are being build over, and encroachments on the existing natural ecosystem is widespread. The existence of nearly 125 brick kilns in the peri-urban area is a critical factor leading to top soil degradation and erosion.

To counter these effects, stress is being laid on the promotion of peri-urban agriculture, conservation of open spaces and water bodies, both to improve the livelihoods of the farmers and improve the resilience of the city itself.

Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh

Gorakhpur city in eastern Uttar Pradesh lies in bowl shaped topography, in the lower riparian area of river Rohini. Already susceptible to recurring floods and waterlogging, episodes of extreme, short burst of rainfall are expected to increase this vulnerability.

Its peri-urban area already faces this challenge. Prone to floods and waterlogging for nearly 2-3 months every year, the small and marginal farmers face the threat of crop losses, and a sustainable livelihood. Changing land use patterns, increasing cost of agriculture and a degraded environment thanks to an unmindful dumping of sewage and waste, is adding to the problems faced by the farmers.

The western peri-urban area, more than 8000 ha of land, is prone to floods. Between 2002 and 2015, nearly one third of these flood plains, a no construction zone, have been converted into built up area. The city is moving rapidly towards the north, north-east, east and south-eastern peripheral area, that is free from waterlogging and flood. And the agricultural land in this direction is taking the fall for the construction boom here, rapidly being converted into residential areas, exacerbating an already delicate situation.

Why it matters

Cities fail to understand that these very peri-urban areas and their ecosystems are a store house of resources, act as a buffer to floods and droughts, and help build up capacities; all of which help reduce the vulnerability of any city. And so, for a resilient and sustainable development of any city or urban area, the focus must be on peri-urban ecosystems and their resilience.

This blog is based on an excerpt from ‘Urban Resilience and Sustainability through Peri-Urban Ecosystems: Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’, a Process Guidance and Training Handbook, published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported under the ACCCRN initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation.

Time to mainstream an ‘Ecosystem based Urban Resilience’

Time to mainstream an ‘Ecosystem based Urban Resilience’

Cities are where the opportunities, employment and growth are, and that is the reason why half of the world’s people live in cities today. By 2050, these cities will be home to 75% of the total human population. A large ecological footprint, growing demand, as well as depletion of natural resources, has placed a huge burden on the ecosystems in these areas.

To ensure a sustainable, inclusive and resilient urban future, a paradigm shift is needed in the urban/ peri-urban policy framework that takes into account rural-urban and livelihood linkages, and no longer ignores the rapidly thinning line between the rural and urban. The need is for a governance set up that is integrative and looks at peri-urban and rurban change, and also safeguards the interests of the communities, land and the ecosystem.

As of now, different line departments look after forests, water bodies and land in the country. Municipalities manage cities, and Panchayats take care of peri-urban areas. Lack of coordination, data sharing or any discussion between these many agencies and departments, is a huge challenge and does not happen easily. Development is usually governed by multiple agencies that include Panchayats, municipalities and other development authorities, often unclear on their roles and responsibilities. Further, there is no separate department for urban or peri-urban agriculture, an important factor that can improve a city’s resilience.

Many of the present schemes that address different urban issues, like Accelerated Urban Water Supply Program (AUWSP), Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM), Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Towns (UIDSSMT), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission (SCM), are all inherently ‘urban’ schemes, and presently do not extend to the transition areas, the peri urban space.

But a holistic approach for urban development is impossible without looking at the development of the fringe areas around it.  And so planners and experts need to step ahead and revisit the existing master plans and regional plans, integrating peri-urban areas in the core planning if they want a sustainable, equitable and inclusive development in the urban as well as the peri-urban regions.

The Urban and Regional Development Plan Formulation and Implementation Guidelines (URDPFI) is a step in this direction, with an objective to promote and facilitate planned and integrated urban development in all cities of the country. The local urban authorities thus need to practice environmentally sustainable urban development.

For this, a decision tool, the Environmental impact assessment (EIA) can be used. If made an integral part of the project approval procedure for local government and other authorities, it can aid the practice of an environmentally sustainable urban development that no longer burdens our future generations. Another way is to calculate the city’s Ecological Footprint. This can be understood as simply the land needed to provide the necessary resources to support any population, and absorb the wastes generated by the community.  This will help clarify the ecological and economical benefits in the concerned urban areas.

Any such environmental policy tools of assessment will help improve land-use, financial and governance decisions, and ensure that the urban, as well as peri-urban ecosystems are not just recognised, but thrive in the build up for a resilient city.

This blog is based on an excerpt from ‘Urban Resilience and Sustainability through Peri-Urban Ecosystems: Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’, a Process Guidance and Training Handbook, published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported under the ACCCRN initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation.



Why cities must be peri-urban smart

Why cities must be peri-urban smart

Urban centres and ecosystems share a two way relationship, albeit a skewered one. Cities use the many physical and environmental services that these ecosystems provide, anteing up their own resilience, but with no thought or concern for the preservation or continuity of these service rendering ecosystems. Benefits for the cities include easy access to food and water, available land for building bigger, buffer from floods and recreational, health gains.  The ecosystems however only face ‘extraction’.

And the peri-urban areas that house these ecosystems bear the brunt of this ‘extractive‘ nature of urbanisation.  Open areas are lost, ecologically sensitive land usurped and fields overrun with cement and mortar. The land turns into a waste dumpyard for the fast growing urban area, leading to a degraded environment that affects the health and the livelihoods of the people living in these peri-urban areas.

And this peri-urban space also supports agriculture that not only enhances the city food basket but helps the urban diet to be diverse and nutritious. Loss of these peri-urban ecosystems can wreck havoc on the food production and supply for the city. With climate change playing a vital role in the increasing trend of disasters across the globe, the health of these ecosystems takes on an added value.

Natural wetlands, mangrove forests, marshes, coral reefs, floodplains; all these contribute immensely in reducing disaster risk. They help in groundwater recharge, flood control, green house gas mitigation, nutrient mitigation, improve soil stability besides educational, recreational and cultural benefits.

Cities are hot beds for green house gas emission (GHG) emission. The peri-urban regions are a potential area for green services and green infrastructure that can reduce this effect in the urban environment through various mitigation processes.

Water scarcity is an urban nightmare, expected to worsen even as India is on a trajectory to become ‘water stressed’ by 2025 and ‘water scarce’ by 2050[1]. The peri-urban areas with healthy vegetation and green spaces can play a vital role to influence the local water availability, storage and purification. Urban sanitation challenge too needs to be addressed holistically, taking into account the complete cycle of toilet access, and then collection, conveyance and treatment of human excreta; and not view the peri-urban areas simply as a sink for their waste

It is time cities and their master plans take into account these shifting and growing fringes that provide these essential ecological and environmental services to the urban hub, if they wish to be truly and really ‘smart’.

This blog is based on an excerpt from ‘Urban Resilience and Sustainability through Peri-Urban Ecosystems: Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’, a Process Guidance and Training Handbook, published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported under the ACCCRN initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation.

[1] According to UN-Water, an area is experiencing ‘water stress’ when annual water supplies drop below 1,700 m3 per person. When annual water supplies drop below 1,000 m3 per person, the population faces ‘water scarcity’.

Struggling for recognition: Peri-Urban areas

Struggling for recognition: Peri-Urban areas

Cities are booming across the globe. Bursting at the seams, trying to cater to the water, sanitation, land and food clamour of the teeming urban population, exhausted of their limited resources, these cities are expanding outward towards their fringes, the peri-urban areas.

Unfortunately, these peri-urban areas are neither geographically nor conceptually well defined. Neither rural nor truly urban, but at the same time dynamic and fast growing; they seem to have been lost in the ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ play of policy, politics and potential.

The peri-urban land is open for grabs especially to unscrupulous land sharks or city beneficial development schemes. Ecosystems are destroyed, air and water quality compromised, forests chopped up and agricultural fields gobbled up. The peri-urban residents lose out on their land and their livelihoods, vulnerable to the onslaught of a degraded and often polluted environment.

What the cities forget is that this very degradation in the ecosystem results in a loss of services that actually support the urban population. As river and lakes pollution increases, accessible source of water sources for the city are contaminated and destroyed. Water demands surge, groundwater table’s plummet and underground aquifers fail to recharge. Open land cease to exist, natural drainage is blocked and a buffer to floods forsaken. Also, when agricultural land is forfeited to buildings and malls, the food supply to the city is threatened by high price and availability. And soon, a landscape that was permeable, shady and versatile turns dry, solid and inflexible.

Besides the land, the people too lose out. Peri-urban areas are typically marked by slums and illegal settlements, where it is mostly the low-income families who live and survive. Living in dismal hygiene and sanitation conditions, for them their ecosystems destruction means loss of food, nutrition or income. And these are the same people who work in informal sectors in the city, ensuring further services to the city.

The time to set the record straight and to truly recognise and understand the peri-urban space is now. It is time to appreciate that these peri-urban ecosystems provide numerous essential physical and environmental services to cities and their residents; And acknowledge the peri-urban areas as what they truly are- An opportunity to boost the resilience of every city.

This blog is based on an excerpt from ‘Urban Resilience and Sustainability through Peri-Urban Ecosystems: Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction’, a Process Guidance and Training Handbook, published by the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), supported under the ACCCRN initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation.