Attaining Urban Resilience in the Face of Climate Change: Bangkok and Hanoi

20 Sep

At first glance, “urban resilience” – the notion that a city can successfully withstand the pressures and trials of climate change – seems straightforward, but as always, the devil is in the details. Preparing a sprawling city for a host of disasters – many of them unpredictable – is a monumental but necessary task.

Much of Asia is already densely urbanized and becoming more so; the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) predicts that in the next quarter century, developing nations in Asia will see a 66% rise in urban populations.

The region plays host to several “mega-cities” – Jakarta, Bangkok, and Shanghai among them.

Building resilient urban spaces entails an new  level of cooperation among government agencies, civil society organizations and the private sector.  Climate disasters will manifest in the form of sea level rise, strengthened cyclonic storms and flooding, abrupt demographic changes and refugee crises, emerging disease vectors and food supply failures. The scope of the problem calls not only for forward-thinking urban managers but also ones who can work effectively with regional and national leaders.   PISA is partnering with the Southeast Asia START Centre and Chulalongkorn University to address this emergent area of concern with the Regional Leadership Institute on Climate Change (RLICC),  Chiang Mai, Thailand.  An intensive program for policy-makers, climate experts, and those working to build urban resilience in the region.

The effectiveness of city plans and preparations are dependent on local variables; nonetheless, PisaSpeak believes a comparison of urban plans is revealing. Bangkok, Thailand is at high risk of climate-related disasters: according to Porntep Techapaibul, Deputy Governor of Bangkok, the city is at risk from sea level rise, flooding and increased incidence of Dengue fever and leptospirosis. The city’s preparedness measures tilt toward long-term GHG mitigation. Techapaibul’s multi-step global warming alleviation plan includes transportation system improvement, promotion of renewable energy, building retrofits, solid and wastewater management and expansion of green areas. The Bangkok Metropolitan Area 2007-2012 global warming action plan lists five steps: reducing energy consumption, joint GHG reduction, promotion of “the sufficiency economy,” GHG absorption and raising public awareness. Bangkok is investing heavily in ecological improvements and emissions mitigation; less is said of specific changes to the city’s health response or flooding control.

Flooding in Hanoi in 2008

In contrast, city mangers in Hanoi, Vietnam are investing heavily in adaptive measures. While not as vulnerable as Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi still stands to suffer considerably from flooding and resultant disasters. Already Vietnamese officials such as Deputy Ngo Van Ny are factoring climate change into their discussions of future growth and expansion of urban areas. Current preparedness measures for the city of Hanoi eschew long-term GHG mitigation for immediate readiness. Among the city’s current goals are increasing flood prevention probability, strengthening dykes along the Red River, channelization, dredging and other upstream flood control measures and improving peri-urban sewage irrigation and waste processing.  Due to Vietnam’s growing awareness of its vulnerability and its partnership with multinational organizations, its cities may emerge as leaders in the field of preparation. Indeed, the World Bank’s Resilient Cities Program has selected Hanoi to be included in its pilot program.

Building cities able to withstand multiple shocks imposed by an unpredictable climate will require significant resources, a weighty challenge for developing nations. Fortunately, as organizations such as the World Bank, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center’s Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network begin making inroads on the task, cities will have a greater pool of experts on which to draw and lessons learned to study. If the demographic projections for Asia are correct, much will depend on their ability to do so.

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