by Manish Gautam*
Cities as source of green house gas emissions.
Cities as vulnerable places to climate change.
Cities as threat to environment vs cities vulnerable to environmental risks.
Cities as parasites! – sucking up the resources.
Cities as place for individual and national growth, opportunities, employment.
The City and the ecological system wherein a city or an urban setting lie are often found at crossroads. Whether it is the building a city from the scratch, or its growth and development, it takes high toll on the environment and ecology of the geography. Today’s world where Climate Change is being perceived as a greater and an imminent threat to the humanity, and cities worldwide being the highest emitters of Greenhouse Gases since the industrial revolution, the burgeoning urbanism in India, though at a rather slower pace, can proliferate the emissions that endanger the sustainability of future generations. it is not only the Green House Gas (GHG) emissions that concerns the well-being and sustainability of the future of the city, but its very resource intensive nature which is generally seen as a factor deterioration of environment.
In 1901, India’s urban population was about 11%, going up to 17% in 1951, and 28% in 2001. Today more than 30% of the India is lives in cities. The top ten cities account for almost 8% of country’s population. Neo-liberal norms, green revolution, massive industrialisation and the role of private players in the market, ‘population explosion’ and the much talked rural-urban migration are some of the reasons attributed to the urban growth.
Often cited as a ‘poorly understood’ process, the urban transition, in context of India, has been a puzzlement for the researchers, urban planners and policy makers.This transition is multidimensional and is not insusceptible to a host of issues and problems. Small towns are shifting towards becoming cities and megacities, the needs of urban residents are not entirely met to their satisfaction. While central government has pledged to build 100 Smart Cities considering a concentration of population in urban places in near future, a closer look at existing cities and megacities provides a different, and rather worrisome, picture altogether.
The growing water demand and the poor, unequal distribution is one of the many indicators. The rivers that feed to city owing to an overwhelming infrastructure are not proving to be enough to meet the requirements, moreover they are heavily polluted. The spaces are congested, the roads are being jammed with the increasing numbers of automobiles. The green cover, trees and forests seen as ‘carbon sink’ and lungs of the environment, are disappearing, being cut to create space for real estate development. The water bodies, lakes, ponds, tanks that once helped the cities to manage the water flow during monsoons and checked the flooding, are also decreasing in number.
Bangalore, is one of the three metropolises situated on Deccan Plateau, gives an ample evidence that all is not well in our cities. Often termed as coupled human-environment system, the cities are facing a range of problems. Hyderabad and Bangalore are blotched with air and water pollution. The groundwater levels are either too deep to extract enough water or it is not potable at all. Water supply to these cities, extracting water from rivers located at hundred kilometers away, is dependent on a heavy infrastructure which needs immense energy usage. The city residents often complain about inequitable and insufficient water supply.
Bangalore’s ecological heritage, its abundant green cover and the tank system, a man-made network of channels and ponds to harvest the rain for city’s water need, is on the brink of losing its existence to the development, industrialisation and growing population. Every other month the local newspapers are full of epiphanies of water scarcity, prolonged traffic jams and flooding at times of rains owing to the poor drainage system.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2 report (AR5) highlights the vulnerability of urban areas to climate change. Climate Change may not directly cause the vulnerability but it ‘exacerbates’ the existing risks which is the imbalance in the human-ecological system in the cities. Urban Heat Island effect in Bangalore city has been well documented in IMD (Indian Meteorological Department) publications. IMD research papers try to connect the higher occurrence of higher rainfall, that often causes flooding in some areas exposing the unpreparedness of urban managers to deal with the situation, with the human-caused climate change.
The Indian cities are often perceived as ill-prepared to face any natural or human induced disasters, the complexities in the relationship of a city to the ecological systems enhances this unpreparedness. Understanding these complexities and envision a better, sustainable plan for the growth of a city, in a nutshell, should be the necessary conditions for implementing development agenda in the cities and urban centers.
*Manish Gautam is a researcher with Indian Institute for Human Settlements and volunteers with Indian Youth Climate Network.