Meeting the environmental challenge through effective urban planning – Prabhakar Kumar

Climate change is no longer a debatable topic. The effects of global warming and climate change are clearly visible around the world. Reports suggest that India will be one of the countries hardest hit by climate change. Extreme heat wave in the north, excessive and untimely rains in the south, frequent incidents of cloud bursts in hilly states and disrupted monsoon patterns are some of the immediate effects of climate change visible in the country.

The latest report from the International Food Policy Research Institute suggests that 9 million Indians are at risk of starvation by 2030 due to the impact of climate change. It’s a scary prediction and even if 50% of it comes true, the consequences will be catastrophic. 2030 is not a very distant year and the situation calls for immediate action from all sides.

Over the past few decades, the Indian economy has followed a gradual growth trajectory. This has led to an increase in the income level of citizens and rapid urbanization. In recent years, economic growth and urbanization have further accelerated. Rapid and unplanned urbanization has put extreme pressure on natural resources and drastically reduced green cover.

The increase in disposable income has led to increased demand for many products putting additional pressure on the environment. In addition, the traffic in the country has increased several times. Vehicle ownership per thousand people in India, which was around 50 in 2001, rose to 225 in 2019 according to the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways.

While economic growth and urbanization cannot and should not be halted, their impact on the environment cannot be ignored either. Effective urban planning can be one of the most effective ways to combat the impact of climate change. Urban planning does not need drastic changes but subtle adjustments to help conserve and rejuvenate the environment.

Have arrangements for public transport

Public transport plays an important role in reducing pollution from vehicle emissions. An efficient public transport system can replace hundreds of private vehicles on the roads. In India, especially in small towns, developers are converting agricultural land into residential land. They divide these lots into smaller residential plots and to maximize their profits, they leave a minimum of space between two plots. Gradually, these areas turn into vast, congested residential colonies.

As the government begins to recognize these areas as fully developed urban areas, there is not enough space to create public transport. In such places, people have no choice but to use private vehicles. City planners should closely monitor any such development and require private developers to provide public transport in the localities they develop. The government should enact strict laws to ensure this. To ensure the success of public transport, it is absolutely necessary to provide classified last mile connectivity.

Blue and green infrastructure

Water scarcity is one of the most burning issues facing the country today. While various climatic and geographic factors are responsible for the water crisis, humans have also contributed significantly. Unplanned urban development has left most urban areas turning into concrete jungles. Green coverage per capita in some of the major cities is also less than 0.5 m²/capita. This is one of the reasons why some Indian cities are among the hottest in the world.

The WHO recommends 50 m²/inhabitant of green space as the ideal. Urban areas should provide green infrastructure such as parks, managed plantations and open spaces. The role of plants and trees in the fight against pollution and CO2 emissions is well known to all. Plant transpiration also contributes to lower temperatures. Green infrastructure also provides porous soil allowing rainwater to seep underground and replenish groundwater levels. Plants also reduce the impact of raindrops on the soil and contribute to soil conservation.

Similarly, blue infrastructure can also play an important role in storing stormwater during the period of scarcity and recharging groundwater. Greater underground water resource helps to reduce the need for drinking water in the city. Water supply infrastructure consumes huge amounts of energy and puts great pressure on natural water resources.

Apart from the environmental benefits, blue and green infrastructure also adds to the aesthetic value of cities and relieves citizens from the problems of city life. Although appropriate planning, integrated mapping of green and blue infrastructure should be done with the concept of watershed and water harvesting.

alternative energy

Having provisions to harness alternative energy sources within the city limits could be a game-changer for environmental conservation. While with the technologies currently available, it is almost impossible to imagine an entire city powered by renewable energy; although a small percentage of the total power may come from alternative sources, it will make a huge difference.

Using technologies like GIS, GPS and remote sensing, city planners can predict the best areas to install photovoltaic solar panels, wind turbines and other devices to harness the power of nature. In India, there are many states where around 7-8 months of high intensity sunlight is available which can be treated as resources and used as an alternative energy source.

Water treatment and recycling

Millions of liters of wastewater are generated every day in cities. In most towns there are provisions for water treatment in the form of sewage treatment plants. However, most of these plants are overwhelmed by large amounts of water entering them, and the majority of the water flows out of them untreated.

Historically, the country’s experience with centralized STPs has not been great. Municipal plans should include decentralized treatment plants in different parts of cities. After the initial treatment at these plants, the water can then be recycled for domestic and industrial use. This water can also be stored in the blue infrastructure for the dry seasons. Reusing water is one of the most effective ways to combat the effects of climate change.

Climate change is not something that will affect our lives in the future, it is happening now. Government, businesses and citizens must come together to counter the effects of environmental degradation. The Indian government is developing more than 100 smart cities across the country.

Among other things, the preservation of the environment must remain the central mission of these cities. Citizens should also insist that property developers focus on sustainability when developing any new area. The role of business is also important because capital is going to be an important weapon in the war against climate change.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise indicated, the author writes in a personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be taken to represent the official ideas, attitudes or policies of any agency or institution.