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.

Talking vulnerability: The Child in the City

Talking vulnerability: The Child in the City

In the 1970s, India had just adopted its first National Policy for Children. It was to become a hallmark policy among public pronouncement s of countries of the developing world. Among its pledges, it accorded ‘paramount importance’ to the best interests of the child in all matters of dispute.

As of 2013, a new policy replaced the 1974 NPC, and the pledge to paramountacy of children’s best interests was switched with a line acknowledging them as a matter of primary concern.  The new policy, however, did affirm that India will extend its care and protection to ‘all children’ in its territory and jurisdiction. 

In the 1970s, UNICEF headquarters regularly published a periodical called ‘UNICEF News.’ A notable issue carried the banner title ‘The Child in the City.’ It reported eloquently on the uncertainties of childhood in an urban poor setting. There was little good news, quite a number of warnings of the un-protectedness of children of the urban poor, and their growing numbers. Cities, the special issue said, were tending to cater to the rich; steps for their ‘modernisation’ were reducing spaces where the poor could live, and bypassing their need for basic services. Yet, migration into urban areas was growing.   

With this background note, many pertinent questions arise on our understanding of ‘the child in the city’, and the effect of disasters on them. Who are these children of the city?  Why are they more vulnerable? What do we mean by ‘resilience’? Is there more to it than simply ‘being prepared’?

The past few years in the Indian Sub-continent have been marked by aberrations in expected weather patterns. It has rained when it should not, in areas where it ‘normally’ did not, and it has failed to rain when it should, in other areas where it ought to have done so in its traditional season. Floods have broken their own records. Earthquakes are increasing, and choosing new locations. Hill-sides have become unstable, perhaps because of blocked drainage routes. And cities and towns have shown that they cannot cope. Climate change impact is a reality, though hard to say whether it is a cause or an effect.

City administrations add their own mistakes to the blighting of urban areas. The felling of trees has denuded large areas, and unsettled ground spaces that depended on the holding powers of roots and the kindness of green cover. In some parts of the country, water tables have fallen in both fields and city spaces. In other places, water can be tapped just a few feet underground, but the mix of sewage seeping into the ground with the water sources makes its dangerous to use. The fields and forests themselves have fallen to the outward growth of cities and towns. Temperature patterns have been affected. As dust levels as well as air pollution and smog are increasing, so are the risks they pose to health. Many towns and cities are ringed by ‘industrial areas,’ which contribute their own burdens to the viability of urban settlements. The awesome generation and accumulation of waste, and the generally poor disposal mechanisms add filth to other hazards.

Congestion is a serious and oppressive hazard in urban areas, and both construction and settlement are its signs and symptoms. Maintenance programmes and services stand defeated by both un-controlled building and the steady influx of people coming to settle or to seek seasonal work. As older parts of urban settlements become crowded with people who cannot provide or support the upkeep of buildings they occupy, old ownership gives way to squatter occupation, buildings deteriorate and collapse. Many urban dwellers have no roof over their heads. Also among them are children without any adult presence or support in their daily lives.

Risk awareness and risk analysis are one thing, risk prevention another. Risk reduction is yet another, but are we speaking of ‘before’, ‘during’ or ‘after’?  Survivors of risk realities, adults or children, generally have to learn how to cope and to pick up the pieces of their lives. But they do not become vulnerable or needy only when misfortune strikes; they already are.

And protective and caring governance mechanisms require training and orientation firmly grounded in ethics. ‘Resilience’ is to be carefully defined, and the responsibility for “being prepared” like a good ‘Boy Scout,’ should not be assigned primarily to the potential victim of disaster.

The author of this blog is Ms Razia Ismail who is the co-founder and Convenor of the Indian Alliance for Child Rights (IACR). She has served in UNICEF for 23yrs, at Regional and Country Offices. She is a recognised child rights advocacy expert and trainer in India, South Asia and West Asia.

Children, Cities and Climate Change

Children, Cities and Climate Change

Climate change impacts each one of us, but children are the most vulnerable and consequently the worst affected. Our children are our future; and their well-being, healthy growth and safety must be our top priority. Children are, and will be affected by climate change and disasters; through malnutrition, diseases, physical and psychological trauma, to name just a few. Not only do they have to cope with the direct consequences of climate change, but also suffer its ripple effect on their family and living environment, through loss of habitat and livelihood.

Climate related disasters are not only increasing in frequency and intensity, but will only get worse with time. The stress induced and the adverse impacts of these disasters are both projected to increase, and will impact children, particularly those who are deprived and living in poverty, the most. Heat waves, floods, droughts, sea-level rise, cyclones, landslides are all likely to increase and these will affect all those living here in varied environments in different ways.

The impact on the children will be multi faceted. Schools can get destroyed, education severely impacted, and children taken out of school to contribute to the diminishing household income. Loss of habitat and homes can result in temporary or permanent migration, which again affects education and the well-being of children. Safety and security of children is another major concern that could further be impacted by such events. Thus, climate change will have short and long-term impact on children’s health, education, growth and also their future.

Droughts will not only impact food security, but also result in children dropping out of school to help the family fetch water or contribute to the family income. Fetching water from long distances (a job often thrust on children) can impact children’s health. Scarcity of water can result in the use of contaminated water, leading to water borne diseases and disabilities, which also impacts the growth of children.

Heavy precipitation is causing floods in many urban areas. Young children easily drown in such suddenly created pools of water, walk in the dirty water mixed with sewage and solid waste, get injured and fall ill. Open defecation can further exacerbate problems as fecal matter gets mixed with flood/ stagnant waters and results in serious illnesses. Floods can destroy school buildings, health facilities and infrastructure. Even though the buildings can be repaired post flood, moisture on the walls remains for a long time and can cause respiratory problems amongst children. This makes them vulnerable to other types of diseases too, due to their reduced immunity.

With global warming happening at an unprecedented scale, children will be highly affected by the heat stress, both in schools and at home. Children can suffer heatstroke, fall ill or even die due to extreme heat, exposure to sun, or dehydration. The indirect impacts include faster deterioration of cooked food, limited outdoor physical activity, and malnutrition. Adaptation measures can reduce the adverse impact of heat stress. These include – indoor sports facilities, playgrounds with trees and greenery, school buildings with good ventilation and cool roofs, solar powered fans (to cope with
power shortages during severe summer heat), and recycling wastewater to deal with water scarcity. Use of indigenous earthen wares to keep food safe and water cool, and promotion of traditional architecture to keep houses cool by using local designs, materials and paints, can also help reduce this heat stress.

Children should not be viewed only as recipients who will be impacted by climate change; they can also contribute to adaptation. Older children often have innovative ideas that can tackle problems. They must be consulted and their participation in decision making be encouraged. Their innovations and experiments can provide local level solutions that may be simple and easy to implement. Also, they can act as catalysts, who can change adult behavior and at the same time teach younger children too.

Children today will become adults tomorrow. If we do not focus on the health, education and safety of our children today, we may not be able to reap the demographic dividends of tomorrow. We may have a population that is less productive, a liability for our vision of a developed nation. Therefore, we must take care of the well-being of our children today, for a brighter tomorrow.

Prof Usha P. Raghupathi, the author,  is a retired Professor from National Institute of Urban Affairs.

Regional Conference: Peri-urban Ecosystems for Enhancing Urban Resilience

Regional Conference: Peri-urban Ecosystems for Enhancing Urban Resilience

About the Conference

A Regional Conference on “Peri- Urban Ecosystems for Enhancing Urban Resilience”

The conference will examine various themes including urbanization, managing the peri-urban spaces, maintaining critical natural resources, food-water-livelihood security of poor and marginalized, gender dimensions, political frameworks, and governance
issues exacerbating due to the inevitable drift of cities into periurban areas as well as the challenges of climate change impacts on these vulnerable areas.

In addition, The ICLEI-RUAF CITYFOOD will also be part of this conference which will be open to local and regional governments to develop a strategic approach to their city region food systems. Food provides a vital link between cities and rural communities. It offers a key opportunity for addressing hunger, poverty and unemployment, climate
change impacts and environmental degradation. The CITYFOOD network aims to accelerate local and regional government action on sustainable and resilient city-region food systems by combining networking with training, policy guidance and technical

Target Audience
The conference aims to create an interface between urban planners, city leaders (elected representatives), administrators, researchers, academicians, civil society organizations, policy makers, regional and national government officials, multilateral agencies, private sector players and community to debate on how peri-urban areas can be mainstreamed into the development process without jeopardizing the environmental integrity.


Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), Gorakhpur and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, South Asia in collaboration with
ACCCRN.NET, UNICEF India and School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi India, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation


18th and 19th September, 2017


Gulmohar Hall, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, India.

Key contact persons

Ms Nivedita Mani
Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group,
A-187, First Floor, Shivalik, Malviya Nagar, New Delhi- 110017, India
T +91 11 41667754
M +91 9818037010
E geagdelhi@geagindia.org

Dr Monalisa Sen
Senior Manager (Sustainability Management)
ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, South Asia;
C-3, Green Park Extension; New Delhi-110016
T +91 11 4974 7200
M +91 9871747467
E monalisa.sen@iclei.org

For more information

Conserving Peri-Urban Agriculture & Ecosystems to Build Urban Climate Change Resilience in Flood Affected Areas

Conserving Peri-Urban Agriculture & Ecosystems to Build Urban Climate Change Resilience in Flood Affected Areas


Water Galore

Climate change for the people of Gorakhpur City in eastern Uttar Pradesh, India is not a distant notion. Unseasonal rain, hailstorms and erratic weather have already made it a frightful reality for this city. Rapid urbanization and decreasing capacity of the city to provide basic infrastructure services and other civic amenities are further exacerbated by climate change impacts. The livelihoods of poor inner city as well as the rural migrants living in the fragile peri-urban areas are most severely impacted. Already, the peri-urban areas of Gorakhpur are prone to recurring floods and water-logging for 2 to 3 months every year.


Degrading Lungs of the City

The peri-urban ecosystems which act as flood buffers, provide food security to the city dwellers and regulate the micro-climate are degrading day by day due to expansion of city and ensuing land-use changes. Gorakhpur’s peri-urban land is a much coveted space, with the developers, real estate builders and municipal bodies eyeing it as a prime location for the city’s waste, refuse and cheap housing. Standing crops have given way to urban sprawls; farmers turn into labourers and open water bodies morph overnight into shiny new multi-storied buildings. This straining of natural resources, absorption of existing agricultural lands, open green spaces and water bodies on the city’s periphery is disrupting its ability to be resilient to climate change impacts.


The Vulnerable Peri-Urban Farmers

For farmers, life turns more chaotic. Agriculture has always been vulnerable to the vagaries of nature, but here the changing climate spells doom for the small and marginal farmers in peri-urban areas. Peri-urban agriculture becomes more expensive as the input costs of seeds and fertilizers are increasing and the net gains are decreasing. In flooded fields and waterlogged land, unsure of whether their crops will yield enough and unable to meet their past debts, many farmers migrate to urban areas in search of other livelihood opportunities. This distressed migration leads to infrastructural development on their agricultural lands, destroying the natural ecosystems there. The consequence of this conversion is the decreased “Food Resilience” of the city as the peri-urban agriculture is a major source of vegetables and fruits for the city dwellers.


Innovations in the peri-urban agriculture

Conservation of peri-urban agriculture and ecosystems by innovative farming techniques and adoption of climate resilient agriculture is central to build resilience to climate change for the entire urban area. Use of flood resilient crop varieties which can sustain in water-logged fields, loft framing, mixed farming and adoption of integrated farming methods help the farmers fight climate change. So, with more food produced in the peri-urban areas, better profits are made in the ready market available in the city itself. This flood resilient agriculture helps these peri-urban farmers become more robust, and simultaneously enhances the livelihood security of the vulnerable groups and ensures food security of the urban poor.


Community-based Approach

City’s expansion in the peri-urban land is also degrading the common property resources like pasture lands, ponds, lakes and open green spaces. The common property resources play an important role in enhancing the city’s resilience to climate change, especially the flood resilience. Besides adapting the innovative farming techniques, the small and marginal farmers from peri-urban villages of Gorakhpur have come forward for the protection of these common property resources by forming small community groups and advocating to stop illegal encroachments.

Cities cannot operate in isolation but within a ‘sphere of dependence’ on surrounding peri-urban areas and their ecosystems. It is of utmost importance to conserve peri-urban agriculture and ecosystems as they give multiple benefits including livelihood security of small and marginal peri-urban farmers as well as ensure food and flood resilience for the urban dwellers contributing to urban climate change resilience on the whole.

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 are welcome to 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

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