DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND GREEN CITIES

Greener City
Green City

I thought of writing this small write-up since it has been going in my mind for last two years. I’m trying to express that thought through the following document.

Across the world, there is a rapid increase in urban living and an ever greater understanding of the consequences of Global Climate Change. Cities are experiencing warmer weather, hotter summers and delayed winters. Even, we can expect much greater changes in the decades ahead.

The population is increasing day by day and with no specific control on the increasing population explosion, there is a fierce struggle for land and space. There is also an increase in the intake of food and water. So, all these factors lead to an increase in demand graph and supply chart seems to go down. This is a worrying fact for a city, which needs to survive this trouble times. 

Hence, we need to find some sustainable approach to keep a balance. The approach should be in areas concerning water, land, food and the air we breathe. All these are the basics of human survival. Let us take the example of water. It’s not the simple expansion of irrigation. It had an ecological and social dimension as well and was the key to rural transformation. Providing a limited but assured quantity of water to all urban households irrespective of their landholding is the key for water conservation. Now, to serve such dispersed need, the systems required had to be entirely different – technologically and socially. The population of the world tripled in the 20th century and now the use of renewable resources have grown six fold. Within the next fifty years the World population will increase by 40%-50%. Now this population growth coupled with industrialization and urbanization will result in an increasing demand of water and will have serious consequences in the environment. Already there is more waste water generated and dispersed today than at any other time in the history of our planet: more than one out of six people lack access to safe drinking water, namely 1.1 billion people, and more than two out of six lack adequate sanitation, namely 2.6 billion people.

(Estimation for 2002, by the WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2004) One must know that these figures represent only people with very poor conditions. In reality, these figures should be much higher.

Less availability of water leads to water stress. Water stress results from an imbalance between water use and water resources. The water stress indicator in this map measures the proportion of water withdrawal with respect to total renewable resources. The depleting resource leads to many tensions over neighbors, communities, districts, states and countries. So, it is a real fact that there is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people – and the environment – suffer badly.”  World Water Vision Report

With this current state of affairs, correcting measures still can be taken to avoid the crisis to be worsening. There is an increasing awareness that our freshwater resources are limited and need to be protected both in terms of quantity and quality. This water challenge affects not only the water community, but also decision-makers and every human being. “Water is everybody’s business” was one the key messages of the 2nd World Water Forum. Indian Cities are no different.

Another challenging factor, which haunts an Indian city, is Green Cover.

As per the report of National Institute of Environmental Studies, Bangalore has a Green Cover of 8.60 per cent, National Capital Region (New Delhi): 8.49 per cent, Greater Mumbai: 6.20 per cent, Chennai: 7.50 percent. The most astonishing fact is that Kolkata has a very less Green cover of 0.95 per cent. The numbers indicate percentage of green cover as a proportion of the total area for major Indian cities. Needless to say, the list — prepared by the Delhi-based National Institute of Environment Studies (NIES), who had made it clear that Calcutta has the lowest green count among all the cities.

It’s stated that as per the established norms the green cover should be at least 15 percent for mega-cities for a population of one – million. Lack of open space and greenery increases air pollution and triggers respiratory and other problems, besides raising temperature, affecting biodiversity and causing psychosomatic disorders among citizens. According to the report it also states that the Green Cover of the city has continuously been depleting from 1.3 per cent in 1997-98 to 0.95 per cent in 1999-2000, due to indiscriminate felling of trees due to various reasons.

Hence, it is very clear that most Indian Cities faces many environmental challenges. Hence a variety of methods will be needed to tackle climate change and its consequences and that living roofs and walls can play a significant role in tackling the situation. The greening of a roof can support rare and interesting types of plant, which in turn can host or provide suitable habitat for a variety of rare and interesting invertebrates.

These would serve many purposes:

a)    Help to reduce global warming and green house gas effect

b)    Help to reduce urban heat island effect (UHIE)

c)    Help to reduce energy and carbon-dioxide emissions

d)    Help to enhance bio-diversity, reduce flood risk, provide insulation and improve the appearance of the city.

Creation of Green Bus Shelters will not only increase the green cover. The mission would be to increase the green look of the city as well as educate the public about the many environmental benefits of green roofs, as well as improve urban air quality and provide attractive waiting spaces for public transit users.  The Green Bus Shelters will serve the following purposes:

a)    Filtering air pollution and particulates from vehicle exhaust

b)    Managing storm water by slowing the runoff rate

c)    Adding an extra layer of insulation to roofs

d)    Providing wildlife habitat opportunities in a dense urban area.

The next concept is Rain water harvesting and creation of Rain Homes. This will together create a Sustainable Rain Neighbourhoods. A sustainable neighbourhood is a mixed used area with a feeling of community. It is a place where people want to live and work, now and in the future. Sustainable neighbourhoods meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life. They are safe and inclusive, well planned, built and run, and offer equality of opportunity and good services to all. (Bristol Accord, 6-7 December 2005)

Sustainable Rain Neighbourhoods will make the communities have access to round the clock usage of water, irrespective of the number of people through effective capturing, storing and usage of Rain water.

Wastes and its disposal is another problem which haunts a metropolitan city. Human is behind every developmental sector. The large-scale production and improper disposal of waste has become a source of pollution and further accumulation of garbage has resulted in serious deterioration of quality of life and the ecological balance.  An initiative need to be taken on the need of systemic waste management. We need to have good projects all around the globe to address these issues and plan its mitigation policies. It’s then we can move towards a Safer World for us as well as for the future generations.

For any project to be successful, there is a need to create lot of awareness campaigns. The purpose of the campaign would be to help everyone learn how to make the city a better place to live, in both small and big ways.

Hope through these write-up, International Agencies, Government and Non-Government organizations take up these projects so that we can see a Greener and a Safer World.

Thanks a lot for reading. Please put a comment if your time permits.

Thanks and Regards,

Mainak Majumdar

Assistant Director (Disaster Management) in India’s Industry and Business organization at New Delhi

Specialist in Disaster Management and Environmental Sciences

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/

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DISASTER MANAGEMENT AND RISKS

Risk Assessment is about identifying the potential hazards and risks associated with any substance, process or activity and determining ways to manage those hazards before the adverse effects become evident.

Risk Management takes a more multifaceted form if a system becomes more complex. This is what happened in Bhopal. It was in 2-3rd December, 1984; the World’s worst industrial disaster killed at least 20,000 people and left thousands maimed and helpless. The medical follow up done by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), based on diverse multi-institutional projects over a 10 year period between January 1984 and May 1994, on the communities that were exposed to the leak provides a reasonably comprehensive viewpoint on both short and long-term health effects. Epidemiological studies formed the core of the study that included 25 research projects, including two multi-disciplinary ones on pathology and toxicology to determine the effects of inhaling noxious gases. The investigations also included clinical and toxicological studies. The entire work was coordinated by the Bhopal Gas Disaster Research Centre (BGDRC).

An International Journal stated earlier that the findings of the study were not made public till 2004. It was of belief that about 42 tones of Methyl Isocyanate (and other gaseous products of the runaway reaction) were leaked from the storage tank in 1984. Approximately about three-fourths of the storage tank population at that time was exposed to the leak. Large part of the populations were affected to different degrees and when experts debated on the ways to find solution, people died like flies. A total number of approximately 80,000 people were studied at severely, moderately and mildly exposed areas and compared with controls from unexposed areas. Later it was found – of the total population, 3.9 percent was affected severely, 8.6 percent moderately and 50.1 percent mildly, while 37.4 percent was not affected. Most people included in the study had no fixed occupation or fixed source of income. Nearly 70 percent of the people, lived in Kuccha houses, in the severely affected as well as control areas (areas where the gas had not spread), and prevalence of the smoking habit ranged from 0.2 to 14.3 per cent.

If one goes through the ICMR report then one could come to a conclusion that the three-fourth of the deaths occurred within the first 72 hours of the leak, which happened around mid night of December 2-3, 1984. It was the post-exposure phases that is now considered as depending on the varying clinical features, the different post-exposure phases have been classified in the study as acute (first month of exposure), sub-acute (one to three months) and chronic (more than three months). The ocular symptoms during the acute period were related to the effects of the gas(es) on the eyes and the respiratory tract. In the acute phase, in addition to respiratory complaints, including chest pain and breathlessness, there were complaints of muscle weakness, febrile illness and vomiting. After examination of blood, it was found that in this phase there were increased white blood cells and higher than normal hemoglobin levels. Situations of these types of can be termed as EXTREME EVENTS, which is beyond the natural capacity of the individuals to cope.

If we look through the doors of history then one can find that risk and crisis management is lettered with narratives about the ways in which the organizations failed to deal with the demands of ‘extreme events’. Extreme events by definition are a class of outcome that have very high consequences (often exceeding the perceived worst class scenario) but also a low probability of occurrence. These factors make them difficult areas for analysis and investigations. These may lead some individuals to come to a conclusion by dismissing their significance by stating that they are not representative of the ‘normal’ state of affairs within the ‘system’ under consideration. Extreme events call into question our understanding of the various classes of phenomenon in which they are found and the strategies that organizations have in place to deal with them.

Thus they confront the secretarial claims and their control systems and can often call into question many of the fundamental assumptions that are held about the nature of hazard. These types of extreme events are also found in Natural Disasters or catastrophes or go-physical phenomenon, extreme weather conditions and also for long term phenomenons like global warming.

For example, a region receives a clear warning about heavy downfall and the same place receives enough rainfall in a 24 hour period (which is equivalent to months of precipitation in the given region) then the scale of the event will definitely surprise many people and will cause situations which may be difficult for the local population to cope. Again, a clear look states that it is often the scale of the events that present challenges around prediction. These leads to elementary complexity in the provision of mitigating advice to those, who are exposed to these type of risks. However there are attempts to provide early warning systems to warn the people against the upcoming disasters.

‘Extreme Events’ are typified by being both high consequence and low probability events. They are events that have the potential to overpower our resistance and yet they occur so uncommonly that we are powerless to develop enough experience from them and expand effective management control strategies that are grounded in the normal trial and error learning process that characterize organizations.

Extreme eventsare however also characterized by the various attempts to ‘manage’ them so that one can prevent the process of its escalation that has the power to move a system within its boundaries of its normal perturbation towards an extreme position, where it can no longer be controlled and has the potential to cause considerable levels of damage. Here we need to understand the consequences of an extreme event rather than seeking to search for developed technologies of prognosticating their occurrence.

If we understand the possible harm that such ‘extreme events’ can cause, it would lead the outcome administrators to reflect on the process by which incidents can shoot up to generate considerable damage and how inadequate our understanding base is, which often depend around these processes.

Some organizations consider the nature of their past histories as evidence that they are ‘crisis prepared’ or ‘resilient’. The lack of sufficient information and evidence about the exact understanding of the possible harm of a particular catastrophic hazard is often seen as a ‘justification’ that the organization is prepared for such crisis. But what if these crisis takes the shape of an extreme event. The coping capacity of such organizations is largely a function of the assumptions that exist around controls, which work under a range of conditions and to an extent that they are able to cope with the task demands that they are generated by emergence.

If we look into the details then one arrives at a conclusion that there are few handful of managers who have an ‘Hand on’ experience of ‘crisis’ not necessarily an extreme event and that would allow them to manage these events with their own past histories he/she had undergone. Therefore the organizations need to engage in simulation exercises in order to ensure that managers have some experience of dealing with those processes around which the hazard might escalate. It would help if the mangers are also willing to consider the experience of other organizations, which are having similar experiences around such types of events. As crises are in essence, extreme events, our understanding of them will be a function of the observations that we can make ‘at a distance’ rather than by direct experimental learning.

However, what these extreme events do is to point to the manner in which managerial assumptions around control can generate the conditions in which catastrophic failures can occur. As such, they serve an important role in allowing us to develop strategies for coping with the consequences of extreme events or crisis by considering the range of impacts that such events can generate.

My assumption goes that these factors stated above may be lacking for what happened in Bhopal Gas Disaster in 1984. A deep look into these aspects and significant research with proper implementation of policies in these areas can help organizations, corporate and other agencies to tackle ‘extreme events’ more professionally and effectively.

Please Note: Incase, there is any mistake in the above data, kindly feel free to mail me at the e-mail address given below.

Thanks and Regards,

Mainak Majumdar

Disaster Management Specialist and Consultant

Weblink:     http://www.theideas.in/