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NEWS: CDKN reports from Resilient Cities 2013

Mairi Dupar reports on CDKN’s collaboration with ICLEI at the Resilient Cities Congress – and some intriguing stories of urban resilience from across the world.

CDKN was pleased to be an Endorsing Partner for Resilient Cities 2013, in Bonn, Germany from 31 May – 2 June 2013.  This Fourth Global Forum on Urban Resilience and Adaptation gathered around 500 mayors, city and government leaders, businesses, experts, practitioners and researchers from around the world and it was the third year that CDKN lent its backing to the event.

This year, the Congress addresses urban resilience and adaptation with a highlight on urban food security. Other key themes included resilient urban buildings, city planning, policy-making and governance, financing and disaster risk reduction.

CDKN hosted a panel on Sunday 2 June on Assessing vulnerability and increasing urban resilience: lessons from local experience. Chaired by Alison Cambray, CDKN’s Head of Country Support, the session highlighted learning from CDKN’s city-level projects and formed part of CDKN and ICLEI’s joint learning programme on the challenges and success factors for climate compatible development.

The panel session featured a lively discussion among the audience and panellists from India, Colombia, Ghana, and the Philippines on best practices for assessing the vulnerability of urban areas to climate change — and how to ensure that these assessments lead to real action for climate resilience.

Cities are suffering climate impacts now

The first message to emerge from the diverse speakers was: extreme weather events are making a negative impact on cities today. “Gorakhpur (India) is located in an area that has experienced flooding for thousands of years and often that has been a good thing, bringing fertile soils, for example,” said Shiraz Wajih of the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group, which leads the CDKN project Understanding flood risk and resilience in eastern India. “But now the nature of the flooding has changed. The flooding is more frequent, more uncertain, there is flash flooding.”

Claudia Martinez, who works in the vulnerable coastal city of Cartagena, Colombia, noted, “the El Nino and La Nina effect are happening every two years, and before, it was every 8-10 years. In 2010, the flooding cost 2% of Colombia’s GDP. We already have climate change problems, we don’t have to wait for 20-50 years, it is happening now.”

Vulnerability assessments are transforming conversations – with government and in government

Speakers described how:

–          Vulnerability assessments have significantly increased the evidence base on climate impacts in their local areas, thanks to data-gathering by community members themselves, who have been  trained appropriately (Coastal resilience in Ghana’s cities project);

–          Vulnerability assessments have substantially increased civil servants’ and government leaders’ knowledge and understanding of true climate impacts when communities have shared their observations (the Integrating climate-related disaster risk management in local planning in the Philippines project, India and Ghana);

–          Vulnerability assessments have led to strengthened disaster planning and adaptation measures at city and district level in India. Here and in Cartagena, Colombia, project leaders are working hard to influence state- and even national level policies, by feeding these local findings, recommendations and actions ‘up the chain’.

“To be successful, it is so important to have a participatory approach, and not just an expert assessment,” said Ali Cambray of CDKN. “There is no point in having a vulnerability assessment if it is something that sits on a shelf and doesn’t move into adaptation planning. So it’s about making sure that people trust and believe in the underlying data and move forward to turn these vulnerability assessments into powerful plans at local level.”

Addressing social exclusion and women’s needs

The projects profiled in the discussion were united by their substantial efforts  to reach beyond the ‘usual suspects’ in city government to involve ‘everyday’ people in defining climate-related problems and solutions, and particularly climate-affected women.

“We make sure we do not do it the traditional way,” said Jean Arcilla of Care-Accord Philippines, who is involved in the CDKN project Minimum standards for integrating climate-related disaster risk management in local planning. “In the Philippines, when a project is implemented, it’s always the leaders who are involved in the activities, but this time, we try to involve ‘non-leaders’ who are not government officials, people who do not occupy influential positions in the communities so that we could have a chance to listen to what they have to say. We make sure there are women, elderly, youth and other sections of the population who should be represented.”

Similarly, in Accra, Ghana and the nearby coastal city of Ada-Foah, it is essential to involve women in vulnerability assessment and the search for climate-resilient solutions because “when climate impacts such as erosion start to take effect, the men migrate away, but the women are left with the problems,” said Felix Nyamedor of the Regional Institute for Population Studies, Ghana.

In Gorakhpur, India, women’s groups have been instrumental to identifying climate-related weaknesses in development and disaster risk management plans and are a central to project dialogues about a more resilient future. “A large focus has been on women,” said Shiraz Wajih. “Women are contributing 60% of agricultural production in the district as a whole, but their lack of rights to land is making them vulnerable when it floods; we are looking at building the capacity of women farmers and how they can deal with adaptation and information flows.”

In Cartagena, the city-wide process for assessing vulnerability and creating adaptation guidelines has not only involved the mayor’s office, the local Chamber of Commerce, and a technical research institute, but also 64 civil society groups.

Finding novel ways to communicate

Communications emerged as another common thread to these successful vulnerability assessments which are beginning to have policy influence and generate action for resilience.

Finding smart ways to present scientific information on climate impacts has helped to start difficult conversations in Cartagena, Colombia – especially with business leaders who would prefer not to hear about the vulnerability of the beaches and built-up coastline. “Data visualisation to show the impact of sea level rise has been really important,” said Ms Martinez.

In the Philippines, the Partners for Resilience Alliance are running a project with the national Meteorological Office to trial new data presentations based on the “common feedback that data is not understandable by other people,” said Ms Arcilla. “We are volunteering to see whether [this new format] is simple enough to understand.”

Meanwhile, information flows from communities to government decision-makers have transformed discussions in the Philippines, according to Ms Arcilla: “the  data and information that the communities are able to produce are not found in the books generated by academia or scientific agencies in the Philippines.”

Ultimately, multiple information flows are needed, but to make messages stick, it’s vital to find the right entry points for communicating with different communities within a city. “It is important not only to speak about disasters and catastrophes but to better understand the language of these communities,” said Barbara Anton of ICLEI. “This has to do with finding the right angles and has to do with mainstreaming into different sectors. For instance, if local businesses think about long term profits, we have to incorporate it.”

The session concluded with reflections on rights and responsibilities of city residents around adaptation and resilience. Often a vast gap persists between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ in cities, which means the rich are blind to negative climate impacts on the poor. For instance, Claudia Martinez spoke of the many rich and influential people with summer houses in Cartagena who turn a blind eye to the plight of the 80% of city residents who are impoverished – and highly vulnerable to flooding and displacement.

As one participant concluded, “What is needed is a double process. Victims need to change behaviour to protect themselves from disasters. The others need to change their way of life.”





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