Chennai flood case presented at workshop on Climate Change in Asia

Growing recognition and interest on climate change as a political and ethical issue has become a scope of discussion in the recent past. The poor and the vulnerable that have generally contributed the least to the climate crisis are hit the hardest.

Highlighting issues on justice, Climate Change Desk (CCD) of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) Office of Human Development organised conference workshop on June 11-12, 2017 at Bangkok. This served as a culminating activity of the climate change research project undertaken by CCD in the year 2016.

The research followed “Case study approach” involving sites in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Philippines and Viet Nam. Research themes focused on, extreme weather events and farming, urban flooding, sea-level rise and the coastal communities, drought and livelihoods in the upland, indigenous culture and forest conservation, renewable energy use, and disaster-risk reduction and interfaith collaboration.

This conference workshop was a combination of technical inputs and case studies presentation on impacts and good practices and interactive discussion. The overall goal of this two-day event was to help sustain the gained momentum and contribute in turning knowledge and established collaborations into more strategic and collective climate actions in the region. Brainstorming and planning sessions that explored potential partnerships gave suggestions to FABC to formulate a roadmap and a regional climate change strategy in Asia. It was concluded that the poor and the vulnerable that have generally contributed the least to the climate crisis are hit the hardest and hence climate change should be a political and ethical issue.

Dr. John Arokiaraj, State Officer of Tamil Nadu of Caritas India facilitated the research team and presented a case study on “Urban Flooding in an Emerging Economy in Asia: A case from the coastal city of Chennai, India”. He said “In December, 2015 what nature gave was not a disaster but excessive rains to the water starved Chennai city. But it became a very big human made disaster due to poor preparedness and lack of co-ordinated mechanisms in place”.

While talking about illegal encroachment, he said that where human law is preoccupied with licences, nature’s law is concerned solely with location. He continued that learnings from disasters should become vibrant and applied for future correction; Disaster is a new normal with increase in number, frequency and intensity ;DRR is collective responsibility towards humanity with inclusive approach ;Resilience is not only bouncing back but leaping forward -Building back better; Focus on Proactive strategy: Prevent and prepare rather than repent and repair; “Your neighbour is going to be your first respondent”; Partnership is inevitable and it is not a choice; Build on local capacity of the Communities and Initiatives; Adaptation to traditional local practices and indigenous knowledge and hence make investments on communities for effective Control, Command, Communication and Co-ordination.

Following are the major recommendations given to address the flooding in Chennai:

For donor agencies: to support ‘soft projects’ that provide platforms for the science community to collaborate effectively with development practitioners and policy makers, transmitting knowledge or scientific findings into government decision-making, highlighting the science-policy interface.

For the government: to review and enforce its regulations against building in floodplains and other flood prone areas, and craft policies ‘with teeth’ designed for the preservation of wetland ecosystems, and the protection of watercourses (with due regard to Chennai’s history relevant to this aspect).

While urban flooding impacts the rich and the poor, the latter’s resilience and capacity to adapt cannot only be built by their ingenuity. The government and other service providers have to construct the necessary infrastructures (such as mechanisms linking them to water networks, and relocation sites or evacuation centers among others), as well as basic health care services that require funding they cannot generate themselves.

An integrated approach in flood control and management is called for which can be done by creating a unified flood management agency which acts as a nodal group to carry out the functions of planning, co-ordination and monitoring of all existing relevant bodies like CMDA, Corporation of Chennai, Slum Clearance Board, CMWSSB, and others in addition to the disaster management agency.