Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Peri-urban issues

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on Peri-urban issues

By 2030, one in every three people will live in cities. The impact of this on the cities and its infrastructures will be enormous. In such a scenario, the peripheral land around these cities becomes important both in terms of opportunities and vulnerabilities.

Here is a compilation of simple queries to understand peri-urban aspects better.

  1.      What is understood by peri-urban areas?

The dictionary defines peri-urban as an area immediately surrounding a city or town. Generally used in a narrow, geographical sense, it is used to describe the informal settlements that adjoin cities, a hybrid landscape where activities of the rural and urban population often juxtapose without any clear cut demarcations. Thus, they are neither truly urban nor rural, but occupy a space between the two, in such a way that urban and rural features co-exist here.

Peri-urban may be thus understood as a fast-changing, semi-natural ecosystem which provides natural resources for growing cities while depending on the urban markets for sales and employment. It is a two-way interaction that places a low premium on preserving the ecosystem, affecting not only the livelihoods of those directly dependent on it but also the city itself.[i]

  1.      What is the definition of peri-urban areas?

Achieving a precise and accurate definition of peri-urban is a challenging task and there is no clear cut consensus on the actual definition of the word. Not clearly definable, given the contextual and situational specificities involved, in most parts of the world peri-urban spaces are rapidly expanding and being occupied by increasing numbers of people (Dutta, 2012; McGregor et al., 2005; Kayser, 1990). In reality it is a complex, dynamic, transitional space whose boundaries are in flux, dependent upon various factors; often conceptualised as:

  • The transitional zone between a sprawling city and its rural surroundings (Dutta, 2012)
  • ‘neither rural nor urban in its outlook and characteristics’ (Prakash, 2012 : 2)

For a glimpse of the complexity and topical nature of this definition, here are a few of the more established usages:

  • Complex mosaics of juxtaposed activities previously regarded as incompatible: Simon (2008)
  • An ‘uneasy phenomenon’ characterised by ‘either the loss of rural aspects (loss of fertile soil, agricultural land, natural landscape, etc.) or the lack of urban attributes (low density, lack of accessibility, lack of services and infrastructure, and ‘lack of urban attributes’: Allen (2003)
  •  ‘Peri-urban’ used as a term qualifying areas with mixed rural and urban features: (Laquinta, D., L, Drescher, A., W, 2001)
  •  Peri-urban interface is often described “not [as] a discrete area, but rather [as] a diffuse territory identified by combinations of features and phenomena, generated largely by activities within the urban zone proper’: Nottingham and Liverpool Universities, 1998 
  1.      What characteristics make peri-urban areas both distinct and vulnerable?

Urban does not stop or rural begin, immediately at the edge of a city. These areas on one hand have great potential, but they also face crippling disadvantages due to certain primary characteristics. They are typified by mixed agricultural and non-agricultural land uses and flows of goods, services and resources between villages and urban centres and a perpetually changing heterogeneous social population. This leads to specific environmental and natural resource problems beyond the scope of urban or rural governments individually which need innovative approaches (Prakash, 2012, Narain, 2010; Allen, 2003).[ii]

Peri-urban areas generally are characterised as :

  • A transition zone
  • A crowded, contested space
  • Very vulnerable
  • Sites of rapid growth
  • Neither geographically nor conceptually well-defined
  • No clear cut government policies defined
  • Environmentally more unstable than rural or urban areas
  • Face uncertain land tenures
  • Have inferior infrastructure, low incomes
  1.      What are the issues faced by peri-urban areas?

People living in the peri-urban areas are often at the forefront of major issues, that include the following:

  •         Depleting resources like water, forests, open green lands
  •         Degraded environment
  •         Intense pressure on land, resources & existing ecosystems
  •         Lack of adequate services like sanitation, transport or water supply
  •         Used as dumping grounds for city’s waste
  •         Degradation of agricultural land
  •         Rapid land use change
  •         Human health issues
  •         Social impact as occupations change
  •         Non farm use of agricultural land
  •         Deteriorating quality of life
  •         Deforestation
  •         Pollution
  •         Non-existent mechanisms for public service deliveries
  1.      What services does a peri-urban ecosystem provides to people?

Ecosystem services provided by a peri-urban areainclude the following:

  • Supporting services: Ecosystem services ‘that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services’ (MEA, 2005: 40) such as nutrient dispersal and cycling, seed dispersal, primary production.
  • Provisioning services: Products obtained from the ecosystems such as food, fuel and water, fodder, fibres, genetic resources, medicines, energy or ornamental products. Asian Cities Climate Resilience 7
  • Regulating services: ‘Benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes’ (ibid) such as carbon sequestration and climate regulation, waste decomposition and detoxification, water and air purification, natural hazard mitigation, pest and disease control or erosion control.
  • Cultural services: ‘Nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences’ (ibid).[i]
  1. What is peri-urbanisation?

When urban grows disorderly and sprawls to peri-urban area, this process can be referred as peri-urbanisation. It is also defined as the processes of dispersive urban growth that creates hybrid landscapes of fragmented urban and rural characteristics.

Peri-urbanisation also leads to usurpation of ecologically sensitive lands for housing and other construction activities. These change the face of agriculture, reduce open spaces, enhances pressure on natural resources like water. These areas are marked by a lack of hygiene and sanitation infrastructure, industrial effluence, air pollution and inadequate provision of basic services. Often, the solid waste of a city is dumped in peri-urban areas (Marshall et al., 2009:7).[i]

  1.      How are urban and peri-urban areas interdependent on each other?

Peri-urban areas depend on urban areas for schools, hospitals and government services, improved infrastructure facilities and better employability avenues. The peri-urban areas provide larger land holdings, cheap labour, agricultural produce and fresh food to those living in urban centres. This changing reality increases the movement of people, goods and services between the two. Agriculture in peri-urban areas helps in alleviating food insecurity and is also instrumental in enhancing the nutritional status of the marginalised or the urban poor.

  1.      What types of environmental degradation occurs in peri-urban areas?

These areas of hurried expansion and development face the following environmental challenges:

  •         Threat to existing ecosystems
  •         Groundwater depletion and contamination
  •         Dwindling natural resources
  •         Urban heat islands
  •         Ungoverned solid waste management and disposal
  •         Increased air quality pollution
  1.      What are the areas of conflict between the two?

Peri-urban areas are usually subject to a whirlwind of construction activity in a short span of time. The drastic land use change coupled with divergent interests may lead to land dispute or conflict. Also, these zones being cheaper and generally under tenuous regulations, offer an alternative for informal settlements around the city.

  1.   Who is responsible for peri-urban areas?

There is no official term ‘ peri-urban’ in the government’s dictionary. No parameters identify it, and they are neither recognized as a space or a social unit. They do not fall within the city’s official jurisdiction and lack critical infrastructure and governance systems. They are thus not served by any municipality to provide basic services, nor are a priority for departments dealing with rural development. Hence, these areas become nobody’s children; and no one bears responsibility for them. [iv]

10. What is urban climate change resilience (UCCR)?

UCCR is understood as the capacity of cities to function, so that the people living and working in cities— particularly the poor and vulnerable—survive and thrive in the face of shocks and stresses related to climate change. [ii]

Urban resilience to climate change describes a city that is resilient on three levels: the systems of the city survives shocks and stresses; the people and organisations are able to accommodate these stresses into their day-to-day decisions; and that the city’s institutional structures continue to support the capacity of people and organisations to fulfil their aims.

The Rockefeller Foundation defines urban resilience as the capacity of cities (individuals, communities, institutions, businesses and systems) to survive, adapt, and thrive in the face of stress and shocks, and even transform when conditions require it.

  1.  How can peri-urban areas contribute to UCCR?

Peri-urban areas and their ecosystems provide essential services that contribute towards climate change resilience in the following ways:

  •         Open spaces act as buffer during floods
  •         Helps in water drainage and infiltration thereby preventing waterlogging & improving groundwater recharge
  •         Green space improve flood retention capacity
  •         Ecosystems services
  •         Agriculture of peri-urban green space as flood retention
  •         Social cultural values
  •         Livelihoods options
  •         Water bodies provide water management options
  •         Multifunctional land use improves conservation and resilience
  •         Bio diversity abundance
  1.  Should I be concerned about peri-urban dynamics?

The number of urban dwellers is growing by 2 per cent a year globally. So whether you live in a city or near it, you will be affected by this rapid rate of urbanisation taking place around you in some way or the other. Rural migration to cities, air quality, loss of empty, green spaces; these and many more will affect residents like you and the environment around them. And inclusion of the climate change factor increases the need to become more resilient.

  1.  How can I know more about what’s happening in this space?

There is a huge amount of interest to understand how peri-urban ecosystems function, what are the services they provide, and why are they important for political economy and sustainable growth.

A recently formed group ‘Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group’ looks at how nature can help improve urban resilience and help mitigate the impact of natural or manmade disasters. You can join this initiative, which hopes to be a learning platform for exchange of ideas and experiences across the various landscapes. ACCCRN partners, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), Mercy Corps Indonesia and Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation, look at critical themes here, to be able to undertake joint advocacy initiatives in a collective form.

Click here to register.

  1.  Can I share information or issues with the working Group?

The working Group has been set up for sharing of information and ideas between individuals, organisations and varied places. For this, you will need to register first.

You may also write to us with any related queries or for further information at  info@geagindia.org . We look forward to your feedback.

References:

[i]  Mitra, A., Wajih, S and Singh, B., 2015. Wheezing ecosystems, livelihood services and climate change resilience in Uttar Pradesh.  ACCCRN Working Paper Series 18.

[ii] ADB, 2014. Urban Climate change: A synopsis

[iii] Urban Climate Change Resilience in Action: Lessons from Projects in 10 ACCCRN Cities

[iv] Omair Ahmad, The Third Pole, 2016; Climate resilience in peri-urban areas

Urban sprawls and frayed ecosystems

Urban sprawls and frayed ecosystems

As urban population continues to grow, peri-urban areas become the logical choice for additional housing, infrastructure and associated activities. Most  of the times this space is regarded as a ‘solution in waiting’ to the growing clamour for a city’s rapid development, one that can be casually bulldozed over.  Open fields are concretised; flood plains built over; and small, marginalised farms lost to the greater need of an urban sprawl.

And here, it is the existing ecosystems in this peri-urban space that bear the brunt of this unhindered spread. The ecosystems and their services are lost in the booming real estate din. The ‘extractive‘ nature of urbanisation places a low premium on preserving the ecosystem; and people’s livelihoods and the city, both are greatly affected.  Most often, peri-urbanisation eventually leads to the usurpation of this ecologically sensitive land.

What happens next? The face of agriculture changes, open space reduces and pressure on natural resources increases. These areas are then marked by a lack of hygiene and sanitation infrastructure, industrial effluence, air pollution and inadequate provision of basic services. Very often, the city’s solid waste too is dumped in these peri-urban areas.

But we forget that it is these ecosystems that help provide a city with essential services. The fresh vegetables and fruit on your table, the clean air, places that uplift you emotionally and spiritually; these are just some of the many benefits that a city derives from its peripheral areas. In addition, they enhance the redundancy and flexibility of urban systems, and help ensure that any failures are ‘safe failures’ so as to minimise future damages

Also, contemporary land acquisition policies disregard social equity and environmental integrity, undermining a city’s capacity to adapt to climate change and rendering the peri-urban areas and poorer populations more vulnerable. Environmental degradation, natural resource conflicts, health concerns and social injustice are particularly acute in these peri-urban areas that are excluded in formal planning processes.

Can a city strengthen itself? Yes, it helps if it follows an ecosystem-based approach to urban climate change adaptation and resilience. And it is only when people are rooted in their original habitat, but with total access to their development rights as well as basic needs, that they are able to preserve the ecosystem, so vital to the health and also the resilience of a city.

Thus, protecting ecosystems and ecosystem services in peri-urban areas is essential to the survival of the poor and to enhance the city’s resilience. Central to a systems approach is the protection of urban and peri-urban agriculture. Peri-urban areas cannot be viewed as ‘waiting rooms‘ for entry to urban areas. What is needed is a fundamental change in mindsets, to prevent further land-use changes and unregulated construction activities.

For example, in Gorakhpur city in Uttar Pradesh (India) where we work, peri-urban areas are conceptualised as those villages that are included in the city’s master plan. The term peri-urban is not used, which means that the social, economic, ecological and administrative changes occurring in these villages, as distinct from those villages that are strictly rural, are ignored. This has led to many changes, not necessarily for good.

Has this been your experience too? Share with us your insights on the ecosystems in the peri-urban areas around you. 

  1. Has rapid urbanisation in your city led to the degradation of peri-urban ecosystems?
  2. What has been the counter effect of this degradation on the city and its people? And the repercussions on the peri-urban population?
  3. Do you believe that your city’s resilience capacity has been affected? How so?

This blog was first published by the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, ACCCRN, here and talks of the increasing degradation of Peri-urban Ecosystems and their declining vital ecosystem services, which help build resilience in cities.

We invite you to please share your experiences from your countries and regions so that we can together understand these peri-urban ecosystems and their relevance in a better way. 

Join us at our Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group, where we exchange ideas and experiences and undertake joint advocacy initiatives in a collective form,  to map the diversity of problems between cities and landscapes, and the real and potential scale of loss & damage.

 

No stink no more: DEWATs in Gorakhpur

No stink no more: DEWATs in Gorakhpur

The heat is on and water pangs are already being felt across southern India. With summer just around the corner, frayed tempers and water conflicts seem to be on the rise; and the clamour for water worsens. As per a latest report, India tops the list of having the largest number of people living in rural areas without access to clean water. These whopping 63 million Indians, nearly as many as all the people living in the United Kingdom, spend hours queuing up for water, coping with the ill health of using contaminated water.

Even as agriculture and irrigation use up the largest chunk of fresh water; almost 90% of wastewater flows untreated into rivers, lakes and coastal zones: threatening health, food security and polluting water bodies.

Can this water wastage be reduced? Or can the water be atleast safely treated and reused? The World Water Day 2017 resonate this simple query: Why waste water?

And Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur city is echoing exactly that! Under the glittering hoardings and frenzied activity, its peri-urban area refuses to be a willing sewage receptacle for the city’s waste. The locals have joined forces, and reinforced their resources and strengths. With the help of ‘Decentralised Wastewater Treatment System or DEWATS’, they have begun to treat the waste water from their homes, before releasing it into the fields and rivers.

No longer a ‘dumping, stinking backyard’ for the cities waste, this peri-urban area is now what it should be for its people- a home and a haven.

To know more of this initiative, watch this film supported by The Rockefeller Foundation and Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) .

Thinking outside the city: The peri-urban space

Thinking outside the city: The peri-urban space

At the beginning of the twentieth century, about 15 per cent of the world’s population lived in urban areas. By 2050, almost three quarters of the world’s population is expected to live here.  In India, 31.16 per cent of the total population, about 377 million people, already live in urban areas (Census of India, 2011). Thus as cities are stretched to their limits, they break through the existing boundaries, and begin to expand and grow. And the population influx overflows into the city’s peripheral land, which is neither totally urban, nor remains rural much longer.

This transitional area, the peri-urban space, soon becomes the ground for unprecedented and hasty transformations in the name of development and progress. This expansion and the ensuing land-use change destroy ecosystems, leading to a host of related problems. Add to these the archaic policies that view urban and rural in terms of people or geographical spaces, and the impacts are grossly multiplied.

Why is direct attention to this essential area lacking? Is it because ‘peri-urban’ space itself is not clearly understood even as pre-conceived ideas persist about them?

We view peri-urban area either from a geographical, land-use, or a social relations perspective. We understand it on the basis of its proximity to an urban area, because it lies just outside the city municipal area, the people living there or maybe based on the un-urban like activities that occur there.

Assumptions of rural-urban areas too exist:  Rural livelihood must be agriculture, horticulture or animal husbandry based; Urban has to be associated with manufacturing, services and commercial activities. We forget about the sectoral interactions that occur here, rural activities do take place in urban areas and services in rural or peri-urban areas.

Thus, only a place based definition provides an incomplete picture of what peri-urban areas are like. This ‘space’ must envelop dynamic interactions between population and the landscape; their associated land uses and livelihoods; and support the notion of a vibrant flow of agricultural goods and ecological services both within this zone and between it and the urban core areas.

Also, peri-urban boundaries are constantly in the state of flux and are shifting. This area experiences high spatial uncertainty, which results in undesirable, complicated land use/land cover. They are most vulnerable to loss of biodiversity and vegetation. This necessitates the protection of land use patterns and common property resources. But does that always happen?

Share with us your views and experiences, so that together, we understand our peri-urban spaces a little better.

  1. Do the current top-down policies for land acquisition by the land authorities in our developing cities consider social equity and environmental integrity?
  2. Is the peri-urban land primarily viewed as a future extension of a city’s master plan?
  3. How does your city view its peri-urban space?  Do the city laws persist there or is it a ‘nobody’s child’? 

This blog was first published by the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, ACCCRN, here and is on the various notions of peri-urban spaces from an Indian context. A discussion thread has been initiated on the understanding, definitions and conceptualizations of peri-urban areas. Often this issue of clear notions and definitions of peri-urban spaces has been seen as an impediment in the overall development and governance of peri urban areas. 

We invite you to please share your experiences from your countries and regions so that we can together understand these peri urban spaces in a better way. 

Join us at our Urban, Peri-Urban and Ecosystems Working Group, where we exchange ideas and experiences and undertake joint advocacy initiatives in a collective form,  to map the diversity of problems between cities and landscapes, and the real and potential scale of loss & damage.

 

 

Her story: 7 ways to integrate gender in climate policy

Her story:  7 ways to integrate gender in climate policy

Disasters cannot be predicted completely, but better panning and readiness can surely reduce its impacts. And if women are included in the complete process, right at the beginning itself, from participatory discussion, decision making to training, not only will they become less vulnerable, but also strengthen the resilience of the land and her people.

An in depth assessment of gender integration in Phase I of the project,“Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood risk and Resilience in eastern India”, undertaken by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) in collaboration with Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET), USA (ISET)and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), was carried out.

The next step forward was to formulate additional strategies required in Phase II to ensure that the project becomes more gender inclusive. Discussions were held with women and men from the community and government officials at district, state and national levels, as also the staff of GEAG, ISET and NIDM. Both villages and urban habitats were covered to understand sex/gender related vulnerabilities a little better.

The underlying idea was to understand the crucial factors that would encourage the mainstreaming of gender issues in disaster management policies.The seven measures that we believe are needed to strengthen integration of gender concerns are:

Assess gender vulnerability
Greater focus must be on poorer economic groups, differently abled, transgender, single women, elderly women, adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, anaemic women etc. Participatory tools must be used for facilitating discussions and a tool kit evolved to assess gendered vulnerabilities, adaptation and resilience. Atleast three habitations (village/urban habitat) should be selected per district/state for this assessment.

Improve capacity building
Build a core team to steer gender mainstreaming, preferably with atleast one staff member a woman. Hold workshops and aim for 33% women delegates as women. Organise a three monthly meeting on gender during inter-departmental meetings to build further capacity, or devote half an hour in each quarterly meeting to address gender concerns in DRR/CCA (Disaster Risk Redution and Climate Change Adaptation) integrated DDM (Department of Disaster Management).

Beyond district level
Carry out Training of Trainers (ToT) for senior officials that focus on perspective building and gender mainstreaming. Prepare case studies in English and the local language for better dissemination. Pilot two modules on gender, DRR/CCA in DM (Disaster Management) and institutionalise the same within NIDM/SDMAs (National Institute of Disaster Management/ State Disaster Managment Authority). Training methods to include document analysis, case studies, role plays, videos or participatory methods.

Make guidelines gender sensitive
Engender guidelines pertaining to DM/DRR along with other relevant stakeholders and share comments to the government on the national level ones. Ensure that the District Collector’s Handbook developed to provide practical tips and guidelines to the administrative heads of districts too is gender oriented.

Work on the UP Action Plans on CCA and Floods
Integrate gender concerns in DRR, disaster management and post disaster adaptation and recovery. Reach out to the possibility to influence the National Plan of Action on Climate Change and National Disaster Management Policy, 2009 from a gender lens.

Baselines and monitoring system
Create gendered baselines in 3 villages per district in accordance with VDMPs (Village Disaster Management Plans). Indicators may be evolved in a participatory manner, covering inputs, process, outputs and outcomes.

Create gendered knowledge products
Encourage knowledge products to view gender concerns. Create specific products that focus on gendered vulnerabilities in the context of climate change and disasters, and integrate of gender concerns within DDMPs. These should be also be translated into local languages.

So, inspite of gender integration not being an agenda in Phase I, progress was made in this direction. Similarly, the government has also incorporated, to varying degrees, gender issues in guidelines, plans and policies. The time is now, to incorporate lessons from the Phase I experience and move towards a strategy that gives women a better chance to rebuild her life and future, for a more resilient tomorrow.

This is the third and final blog based on the research project “Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood risk and Resilience in eastern India”, undertaken by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) in collaboration with Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET), USA and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

Blog 1: Her story: 7 reasons why women face greater risk during disasters

Blog 2: Her story: Looking at a project through a gender lens

 

Insights_Almora, Uttarakhand : Department wise key recommendations on CCA-DRR integration

Insights_Almora, Uttarakhand :  Department wise key recommendations on CCA-DRR integration

Integrating CCA-DRR in the disaster plan of a city can result in a robust plan of action, one in which all the stakeholders are involved, participative and their capacities for build-back-better enhanced.

The DDMP of Almora in Uttarakhand was revised to do just that.

During the intervention, the Shared Learning Dialogue exercise with each line department was conducted and gaps were identified, based on which the following recommendations were given:

Police Department

  •  Requirement of more fire hydrants and static water tanks in new areas, small towns and villages, especially where forest fire is more prevalent
  • Provision for more maintenance funds
  • Procurement and distribution of snow boots to the personnel
  • Development of specific strategy to encourage women to apply and join the police force

Public Works Department

  • Cater for periodic meeting and actions with forest department
  • Refer and use good practises like ADB’s UEAP project where SoR is higher than PWD normal rates, for policy changes for provisions for resilient roads construction
  • Share lessons from execution of restoration/repairs/new construction program as there are diverse guidelines, program and schemes
  • Make loss assessment process simple and fast
  • Take help of provision from SDRF for post-disaster repairing work

Education Department

  • Install solar panels in schools where power is a problem
  • Provide water lifting pump for schools
  • Timely release of funds for repair and maintenance

Electricity Department

  • Revise costing norms
  • Review verification norms and make simpler
  • Minimise funds disbursement time

DDMA/Revenue

  • Ensure that land zoning policy and building code are in place with specific re-enforcing agencies
  • Plant wide leaves tress
  • Reserve 10-15 barrel of ATF that can be used in aviation by the department
  • Install more rain gauges
  • Equip revenue police with modern communication tools
  • Provide recognition/award for exemplary work by revenue staff
  • Give women equal preference in training and other activities

Panchayati Raj

  • Cater for higher norms for hilly areas where the terrain demands higher per-unit costs of infrastructure
  •  Train panchayat members on DM and other developmental schemes and norms

Jal Sansthan

  • Develop new resilient technologies in drinking water supply
  • Develop project under UWDP
  • Deploy trained manpower in the field or training of community on repairing and maintenance

Almora Municipality

  • Improve drainage
  • Consider overhead tanks for drinking water reserve in emergency situation
  • Require more funds for repairing and maintenance
  • Ensure building bylaws are in place

This is an excerpt from a revised DDMP,  formulated with the integration of CCA-DRR concerns, undertaken by  Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) on a CDKN supported intervention in Almora, district of Uttarakhanduri district of Odisha, for Integrating Climate Change Concerns into Disaster Management and Development Planning .

Her story: Looking at a project through a gender lens

Her story: Looking at a project through a gender lens

Disasters have a greater impact on women undoubtedly. However, integrating gender concerns was not an integral part of the objectives of Phase I of our Project “Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood Risk and Resilience in Eastern India’. Nevertheless, as we moved ahead, gender dimension became a natural , but not too visible part of the study. Without focusing specifically on gender issues, we still managed to pull off a few objectives, which in itself was an achievement.

Traditionally, rural women in flood prone districts of Gorakhpur have always adapted strategies to reduce risk. With a little help from us they switched to flood and heat resistant seed varieties, revitalised traditional seeds and adopted low input sustainable agricultural practices. They created fodder banks in attics in their homes, and also started their own informal ‘chit’ fund for better financial fluidity. In some places they have lobbied with the Gram Panchayat and government to build embankments. Compared to them the risk reduction and adaptation strategies adopted by marginalised urban women were minimal.

An assessment of the project illustrates that ‘women’ were very much a part of the DRR-CCA picture and their concerns were a part of the discussion, albeit incidently, in the report during the:

Vulnerability analysis
Safety of women staff engaged during relief work, inadequate emphasis by the government, provision of light on roads, safe location and maintenance of services and exposure to new risks and unfamiliar danger due to migration were discussed.

District Disaster Management Plan
Here not just a disaster relief plan was discussed, as is normally the case, but a risk reduction and post disaster recovery phase were also included. Through the process it was realised that women were simply not a part of the shared learning dialogues. To counter this, front line workers ie. Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs), who are women, were invited; and it was realized that the whole process could be strengthened by the presence of women in a larger force.

Dialogues
Through the talks and discussions held, various gender specific issues came to fore. Some of the problems that women face during disasters intensify, especially the ones governing their safety, separate toilets in shelters and the specific needs of pregnant women.

Practised, but not in the DDMP
Certain norms were already incorporated on ground, though not a part of the disaster plans. These include the facts that atleast 30-40% participants in the village DMP were women; priority was given to pregnant and lactating women; protection of adolescent girls was a priority during floods; ASHA workers had a medicine kit and received early warning information; installation of handpumps at elevated levels for safety of women who come to collect water.

Training Manual design
During the field testing of the manual 3 of the 14 participants were women. The manual mentions that women representation must be there during the training, though no specific number is mentioned. It also notes that the local women’s group engaged in processing activities added value to the resilient strategies. Gender intensified strategies that will benefit women are commented upon too.

Knowledge products creation
Documents the introduction of an early-maturing 60 day paddy crop which matures early, thereby helping farmers cope with delayed rains. From a gender lens, it demands lesser weeding than high yielding varieties, yields more crop waste which can be used for fuel and fodder, and permits saving of seeds and multiple cropping. Also the interventions with women on nutritious gardening has strengthened nutrition and food security of the households, expanded their incomes, though increased their workloads.

Staff capacities discussion
Felt the need for a gender workshop which included a field visit to listen the voices of women and girls’ and also for gender to be a cross cutting issue across sectors.

Were we looking at gender issues here? Certainly not! But specific needs of women during disaster and rehabilitation came up and were incorporated seamlessly, thus laying the basic framework to build upon. Lessons from the Phase I project can be incorporated to strengthen gender integration in the future. The work ahead lies in integrating the learnings from this experience and act locally and at state/national levels to engender policies, plans, guidelines and meet the needs and interests of women and men in the these three districts.

This is the second blog based on the research project “Towards Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation: Understanding Flood risk and Resilience in eastern India”, undertaken by Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) in collaboration with Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET), USA and the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM).

Blog 1: Her story: 7 reasons why women face greater risk during disasters