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Building resilience through nature-based and community-centred approach

By Garbhit Naik*, Mansee Bal Bhargava** 

Climate Change is a natural phenomenon caused due to the transitions in the way earth moves. In the past, it was considered to be a slow transition that would give all the life forms to adapt to changes. Little was known that industrialization, urbanization and technological advancements would put transition in a fast forward mode, so much so to bring the greatest risk to existence of life. The overtly put inclination in technology driven development led to arrogance in human endeavors to conquer nature. At the same time, an avoidance and ignorance grew in the modern society about the traditional wisdom that the best way to fix social-ecological problems is through nature conservation with the help of local communities.
In the session on ‘Building Resilience through a Nature-Based and Community-centered approach’, the focus is on the need to understand, acknowledge and apply the nature-based and community centered learning to help build resilient ecosystem and community towards the changing climate and its impacts. The discussion is led by Dr. Pranab J Patar and Dr. Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman. The session was moderated by Bibhu P Nayak from TISS Hyderabad. Pranab holds the position of CEO at Global Foundation (GFAEHW), New Delhi. He is an award-winning environment & sustainability professional with over 20 years of experience. Mirza is an independent researcher based in Guwahati, Assam. He specializes in border studies in Northeast India, vernacular understanding of climate change, and transboundary management issues between China, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh. This essay is an excerpt from the conversation of the session.

New perspective to the climate change

The world is surrounded with issues such as floods, droughts, rise in temperatures, irregular monsoons and rising pollution levels, most of which entail a larger problem i.e., climate change. According to the Global Risks Report 2022 by World Economic Forum, risks across all the timelines (short-term or long-term) directly or indirectly lead to a catastrophic change in climate. As a metaphor on the importance of change, it is one thing to consider that, ‘change is the only constant’; however, climate change is probably one aspect that we are not happy and instead deeply concerned about. Environmental activists warn climate change to be an alarming state and is often discuss (negatively) the negative impacts.
Is this change only talking about the crisis or also referring to a rising opportunity? As stated by Rahm Emanuel, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Innovative ideas and novel solutions are created while we are dealing with this problem quoting the benefits of the ecosystem services provided by the Blue-Green spaces. Yes, the major focus on increase in urban built environment is resulting in loss of vegetation and water resources. This further creates local challenges from physical such as, air pollution, drought or flood, transcending to social such as, asymmetric access to water and sanitation with more vulnerability of women and children. Hence, the focus on local solutions has to be as robust and resilient as the rigorous studies on global scenarios. Taking a decentralized route to collective action, improving the local knowledge base, engaging local people, reducing the threat, devising local mitigations and adaptation is the need of the time.

Building Resilience through De-Centralization and De-Carbonization

With a decentralised approach to conservation, it is possible to protect, conserve and restore natural resources with the help of Blue-Green Infrastructure (BGI). BGI is a geo-spatial network of nature-based features situated in built-up areas that form part of the urban landscape. These features are either based on vegetation (green), water (blue) or both. For a long time, the conservation strategy in the country was focused on protected areas or forests. Though it is crucial, there are also micro-biodiversity hotspots which work as a unique ecosystem in themselves. We have to access their biodiversity potential to create an understanding of how they influence and get influenced. This gives a larger picture of how the local environment and urban ecology is responding to environmental changes.
To avoid the overlooking of such smaller areas while the authorities focus on large, protected areas, it is important to promote local actions that may also empower local communities. Since, India is in a dire need of livelihoods, hence creating livelihood opportunities while trying to protect these areas will serve as a win-win situation for two major issues faced by every government. For example, restoration of water bodies in Ghaziabad using a phyto-reed system which treats the water without using energy. It supports aquatic life besides generating livelihood for the local people through opportunities such as fishing, which also ensures sustainability of the waterbody. For example, in the gender skewed society of Haryana, underprivileged women are empowered by engaging them with water hyacinth to recreate alternate products thus generating livelihoods. This has resulted in regular cleaning of the waterbody thus maintaining its ecosystem.
There are alternate mechanisms in decentralized water conservation. For example, Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECM), approach implemented at biodiversity parks, sanctuaries and other natural habitats that support large number of organisms. It is popular there as it is more flexible in terms of regulations and not stringent as national parks. It is people friendly thus promoting more citizen participation. the biodiversity parks and other natural habitats that support a large number of organisms. biodiversity parks, sanctuaries and other natural habitats act as important carbon sinks in urban areas where pollution levels are increasing at an unprecedented rate and the green-blue infrastructure is yet exploited as optimal alternative.

Role of communities in building resilience (case of Northeast India)

In climate change, the resilience initiatives are mostly happening in boxes while ignoring the larger picture that the natural geographical spaces and the communities around it are independent of the geopolitical boundaries, even the provincial boundaries. Assam floods is a classic example as the effects of the disaster may have been registered there but the factors responsible for flood were beyond the geographical boundaries of the state.
The Himalayas and the rolling hills are inhabited by small communities who have a definitive worldview of their ecological diversity. That has to be understood first to be protected since they have a lot of knowledge for the modern governance systems that are currently implemented. The bio regional understanding is a long way forward in building resilience to climate change. Community based solutions and traditional understandings for managing ecology needs scaling up to design alternative frameworks for conservation. It is also crucial to understand how ecologies have transformed overtime.
State-centric understanding pushed for large infrastructures like dam for hydropower in the Himalayas have disturbed the landscape of the local region besides those are being disconnected with the local community. Then, the imitation of the larger landscape is undertaken to establish community interactions and connections. The communities in these regions see dams as ruptures and believe that cutting a river into different parts is just like cutting a person and it is evident that none can survive the damage caused. Community decision making based on traditional knowledge systems plays crucial role in taking the course of development in a much more meaningful manner. Not taking them onboard in the water infrastructure projects has a long-term impact on both the water and the people of the region. Taking the case of Xiang River upon which 36 dam projects are planned until now, it is argued that the larger riverscape is disturbed along with the communities that are dependent on it.

Conclusion

The unprecedented development has led to increased disaster risks of lot of communities and put them into vulnerable positions where their ability to use their traditional knowledge in order to confront such calamities is reducing day by day. Compatibility on the pace of development versus the pace of infrastructure interventions is required. People often argue that the parameters of climate change are just the projected numbers and there are no standardized procedures or evaluation frameworks to assess whether the nature-based solutions undertaken are actually helping in building resilience or not. It is hard to believe at first instance, but eventually when the local communities start to take up the task personally, they are in synergy and a lot of benefits in terms of ecosystem services can be observed. Though the benefits seen today may not be substantial enough to be called global mitigation strategies, it is certainly helping in building local resilience. These local resilience building steps are crucial for gaining confidence in improvising the future intent and implementation strategies at all scales.
***
Wednesdays.for.Water is an initiative of the WforW Foundation, a think tank, built as a Citizens Collective. The idea of Wednesdays.for.Water is to connect the water worries and wisdom with the water warriors through dialogues/discussions/debates. The objective is to get in conversations with policy makers, practitioners, researchers, academicians besides the youth towards water conservation and management. The other team members are, Prof. Bibhu P Nayak (TISS-Hyd), Dr. Fawzia Tarannum (Climate Reality India) Ganesh Shankar and Vasantha Subbiah (FluxGen-Blr), Monica Tewari and Megha Gupta (ED®C-Ahmd) and counting. The WforW Foundation is reachable at hellowforw@gmail.com, and wednesday.for.water@gmail.com. The Wednesdays.for.Water social media are at Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
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*Independent scholar and fellow at ED(R)C Ahmedabad and WforW Foundation. **Entrepreneur, researcher, educator, speaker, mentor, environmental design consultants, Ahmedabad (www.mansee.in)

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