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How To Make Climate Solutions Accessible To Vulnerable Communities

This blog is the second in a four-part series that highlights critical aspects of implementing the Mumbai Climate Action Plan (MCAP). The authors spotlight opportunities that lie in equitable and inclusive climate action with a focus on residents of informal settlements who make up more than 42% of the city’s population. Read the first blog in the series here.

“Diversity makes cities vibrant and alluring but inclusivity makes them healthy and successful in the long run”

-John Rossant, Founder and Chairman, New Cities Foundation

Poor communities living in informal settlements are particularly at risk from the impacts of climate change. Mumbai, with its high urban density (of more than 28,000 people per square-kilometer) is home to millions who live in the most precarious of settings. These include high-risk areas – around landfills, on wetlands, close to the coast, on hilly terrains or in very low-lying areas – that offer the most affordable housing options in the city. A combination of various socio-economic, political and demographic factors makes these communities more sensitive, and therefore more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in our cities. Mumbai’s Climate and Air Pollution Risks and Vulnerability Assessment as part of the city’s Climate Action Plan draws attention to those who are most vulnerable in the city. With little to no access to basic infrastructure and services, residents of such areas lack the necessary socio-economic buffers needed to withstand climate-related uncertainties.

For example, during the 2005 deluge in Mumbai, more than 1 million city residents living in slum settlements were stranded in flood waters and incurred an estimated loss of INR 20.68 billion (USD 250 million). With Mumbai’s population projected to cross 27 million by 2035, a heightened risk of death, displacement, illness and loss of livelihoods further exacerbates the city’s inequalities. In the wake of these harsh realities, we look at four ways in which equitable climate action can be undertaken to increase the resilience of the most vulnerable in our cities.

1. Making Low-Income Housing More Climate Resilient

Mumbai has committed to making all new buildings green by 2030, which means all new construction will need to adhere to energy efficiency compliances and passive design guidelines. Passive design utilizes existing environmental conditions and natural resources and reduce the dependence on resource-heavy mechanical and electrical systems to achieve the suitable thermal comfort inside buildings. This is of particular importance to low-income housing like slum redevelopment buildings. Often, new low-income housing is poorly planned with minimal natural light and ventilation. This leads to higher dependence on cooling appliances that in turn impacts energy consumption making the transition from slums to formal housing more cost-intensive than anticipated.

More than 5 million people in Mumbai live in slum settlements (Census 2011). Relocating all of them to formal housing would require careful planning that integrates sustainable design principles with sustainable building materials to form healthy living spaces. Additionally, building areas must be well planned with open spaces and amenities that cool surrounding areas and enhance community health and quality of life.

2. Improving Access to Services and Amenities

In a city that has effectively priced out its poor, slum settlements serve as a form of affordable housing. However, these settlements are often located in areas that lack adequate service distribution networks and basic amenities. For instance, in Mumbai’s M-East ward, 84.9% of the population lives in slums and only 53.6% households have access to water within their premises. This is just one example. Such communities continuously navigate complex approval processes to get day-to-day necessities such as access to potable water and Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) cylinders. Additionally, these communities also grapple with larger climate change-related risks such as urban flooding and extreme heat.

Concerted efforts need to be taken for better management of these risks. Building higher plinth levels, managing waterlogging in low-lying homes, clearing stormwater networks and ensuring proper solid waste management to keep drains functional is critical. Shared drinking water taps need to be raised above the flood level, and access roads to common toilets must be well-shaded and built with good drainage to ensure safety and uninterrupted access. Lastly, designing accessible open spaces to enhance green cover, acknowledging the needs of the community and integrating nature-based solutions in landscape projects to increase flood and heat resilience is crucial. While the city’s poor wait for their turn to move to better housing, slum upgradation schemes are an opportunity to create safer and more equitable living conditions in the city.

3. Ensuring Equitable Transition to Green Jobs

As the city works towards better waste management processes, an important component will be enabling informal workers who are currently employed in waste management, to safely transition to the recycling, repair and recovery sector. To this end, Mumbai can take proactive measures to re-skill workers while supporting sustainable innovation in the waste sector. In the mobility sector, identifying livelihood losses arising from modal shifts (e.g., from CNG autorickshaws to e-rickshaws) can help plug critical gaps and enable stakeholders to train for new work opportunities. Civil society organizations and industries can also play a vital role in facilitating training and placement programs for impacted groups.

4. Continuous Mapping of Vulnerable Neighborhoods

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s proposed Climate Action Cell has a unit dedicated to vulnerable communities that will leverage partnerships with academic and civil society organizations. This cell will also work closely with the sustainable landscapes unit and community members to develop coordinated solutions for better flood and heat resilience. The Climate Action Cell will also update the city’s vulnerability assessment every two years and identify specific neighborhoods/wards where detailed community-based adaptation plans can be developed in partnership with academic institutions and civil society organizations. Finally, the cell can leverage the interests of local administrators and political leaders to direct development-allocated budgets towards distributing energy-efficient appliances and electrical fixtures to lower emissions and consumption costs.

To reduce climate vulnerability in informal settlements, Mumbai needs to take cognizance of differential vulnerabilities distributed over space and time. To further strengthen this resolve, the city’s municipal budget can be used as a tool to allocate resources for climate actions and infrastructure upgrades in vulnerable communities.

Views expressed by the authors are personal.

The next blog in this series will focus on governance tools and implementation systems that can be leveraged to operationalize the Mumbai Climate Action Plan.

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