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Strategizing for urban risk and resilience in Thane’s coastal settlements

Strategizing

On the western part of India, Thane is a rapidly urbanizing city in the Mumbai Metropolitan region. Thane Creek, which joins the Ulhas River has several indigenous fishing settlements or koliwadas on its coastal edges, along with rich ecosystems. The vernacular structures of the settlements, cultural ethnicities of the people as well the biodiversity are an asset to the city. But they experience several vulnerabilities that need urgent action.

Thane city is low lying and is prone to cyclones, coastal flooding, and waterlogging. Due to heavy industrialization and migration, the city faces increased population density, land encroachment and dumping of waste in the creek. Scientific research has also indicated increased siltation in the creek over many decades. All these factors have a direct impact on the marine ecology, health and sanitation in the koliwadas and causes depletion of valuable resources. Indirectly, it affects the local economy and the identity of these places. This blog aims to provide strategies for Thane’s coastal settlements through the lens of key global risk and resilience frameworks.

Building resilience in selected infrastructure sectors will help in overcoming the many challenges to Thane city in a systematic way. Firstly, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that must be focussed upon are SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being (Target 3.9), SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation (Targets 6.3, 6.b), SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities (Targets 11.3, 11.4, 11.6.1, 11.b) and SDG 13 - Climate Action (Targets 13.1, 13.3).

The coastal settlements include several structures made using local materials and techniques, which are climate sensitive. The koli fishermen have a unique culture which is manifested in their festivals, cuisine and traditions. Committing to the SDGs 11.3, 11.6 will enhance sustainable urbanization, planning and waste management in these areas and SDG 11.4 motivates the protection and safeguarding cultural and natural heritage of these settlements. The informal encroachments on coastal lands in Thane have a high probability of water shortage or supply of unsafe water, unsafe sanitation and lack of hygiene.

SDG 3 and SDG 6 target indicators guide towards better conditions by supporting communities for elimination of dumping and protection of wetland ecosystems. SDG 13.1 is important for improving capacity of the locals to face climate related hazards and strengthen resilience of the infrastructure, while 13.3 augments it in improving education, awareness and early warning systems which are crucial for any shocks or stresses these settlements might face.

With regards to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015 – 2030, Priorities 1, 2, 3 and 4 are understood in several ways at the national, local, global and regional levels, and all are crucial for Thane city.

Priority 1: ‘Understanding disaster risk’. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) has created zonal development, flood zone and hazard maps for the Thane city. In 2018, Thane was said to be the first city to have a climate resilience plan undertaken by the municipal corporation and Rockefeller Foundation, Singapore. The city has also commenced on creating a natural asset map and a People’s Biodiversity Register with ICLEI in 2019. These will play a huge role in understanding disaster risks in the area.

Priority 2: ‘Strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk’.  Thane city has set up a regional disaster management cell (RDMC) and a Thane Disaster Response Force (TDRP). Also, the city has started real-time administration and governance via social media such as Twitter, which has proved to be beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Priority 3: ‘Investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience’.  The need for capital investment on structural mitigation measures such as protective structures, and non-structural measures such as awareness, policies, etc. are discussed in the District Disaster Management Plan of 2019.

Priority 4: ‘Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction’. In 2020, Thane commenced a pilot project with the support of the Urban-LEDS II, to establish an early warning system for flooding and waterlogging. In May 2021, an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) was notified around the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary for protection from development pressures.

Thane city undergoes change constantly and there are several things that impact the organic coastal settlements, the shifting water edges and the fluctuating – native and non-native – people residing in these settlements. Hence it may be wise to initially create a non-biased assessment through inter-connectivity of the infrastructure sectors in the city. For this purpose, the Evidence-Based Infrastructure Framework with National Infrastructure Systems Model (NISMOD) is explored as a strategy for risk and resilience assessment of Thane city, because it is a fairly simple and straightforward system to handle several complexities.

The framework helps in efficient cross sectoral analysis and in prioritizing risk reduction activities and long-term decision making for sustainable and resilient development. It includes three major components which are as follows:

  1. Comprehensive Datasets include evaluation of current infrastructure systems and review of long-term services. Incorporation of variety of data sets from on-ground assessments to remote sensing satellites is done in this section. Participation and consultation with local stakeholders through meetings and workshops for data collection can help to understand local history of Thane, evolution of land-forms, settlement patterns, usage of energy and water, types of waste and disposal of waste water and solid waste and other such information. Population projections can be obtained from the Indian Census data of 2011. Stepwise flood risk mapping, vulnerability assessment and assessment of heritage and biodiversity of the coastal settlements is essential for this step and can be carried out with the help of private sector and government departments.
  2. Infrastructure Systems Modelling includes establishing a vision for future infrastructure performance and identifying strategic alternatives for delivering the vision. It is essential to understand local demands in response to population growth for making the vision plans and related decisions. These visions must align with the SDG targets. To list a few examples, spatial data on flood risk and infrastructure assets can help in the planning of the settlement and for new development; introduction of dumping prevention campaigns, recycling methods and incentives have the potential to solve Thane’s waste problem; strategic regeneration activities can help promote tourism and invigorate the local economy.
  3. Evidence Based Decisions include analysing the scale and timing of strategic alternatives and recommending adaptive pathways of policies and investments. Thane has already taken exemplary efforts for ‘Urban Green Growth Strategies’ through its Solar Cities Program and Rainwater Harvesting Initiatives. Long term plans for coastal management must be proposed to align with visions for broader societal developments. The Evidence-Based Infrastructure Framework can play an important role in the planning, implementation, management and informed infrastructure investment for the coastal settlements in Thane by acquiring better knowledge of demographic, economic and climate change risks.

Further to the evidence-based assessment, the recommendations for the coastal settlements in Thane are derived using the ten essentials of the UNDRR Disaster Resilience Scorecard for Cities.

  1. Place Making- Consultation and co-ordination with all stakeholders for understanding assets and risks is the first step in place-making. It is important to identify cultural values of the coastal settlement and promote them with the help of stakeholders for recreation, hospitality, tourism linked activities. A local representative must be elected from the community to aid this process.
  2. Hazard Assessment- The risk maps must be updated with latest research. The collected data must be shared as an open source with the community. This will help in understanding exposures, cascading impacts and failure chains in case of disasters.
  3. Investment- The community must constantly be aware of and utilize government grants for regeneration and emergency relief funds. It must consider social impact bonds and insurance for domestic dwellings. The local representative must update the community of the financial opportunities and liabilities from time to time. 
  4. Land Use and Zoning- There should be a regular review of encroachment in the coastal areas. Vernacular structures must be evaluated and designated for legal protection. Special building codes must be made for vernacular structures in consultation with experts. Changing land use to benefit wetlands and biodiversity is an important strategy for zoning. Use of soakaways and porous elements in urban design can help in sustainability of coastal areas. Transport and social infrastructure including healthcare services in vicinity of the settlements must be maintained for emergency.
  5. Natural Environment and Ecosystem Health- Mangroves and wetlands are natural flood management solutions and must be protected from damage. Desilting of mangrove holding ponds and reducing contamination of Thane’s terrestrial and marine environments will contribute economic value through sustainable livelihood opportunities and increased tourism revenue. Restoration of embankments must be done where required. Construction of a board walk and watchtower may be done where access is limited to the coast.
  6. Skills and Experience- Public awareness and training workshops may be proposed to increase social connectedness and inter sectoral links with the local and migrant population. Indigenous working skills and techniques of the kolis must be identified and strategies to make them transferable must be worked upon.
  7. Community Organizations- Neighbourhood communication and cohesion activities for management and ownership are critical. Regulated inspection of encroachments, septic tanks, trash collection and responsible disposal are other activities that may be undertaken by community organizations with NGOs. 
  8. Protective Infrastructure- Conservation helps in maintaining social identities and repairing/weather-proofing local houses in advance helps in prevention of damage due to climate change events. Physical flood defences such as sea walls may be implemented where there are no mangroves. Clearing of storm drains, construction of portable sanitation systems, underground septic tanks, sewage treatment plants must be done where required.
  9. Early Warning- Sea level monitoring and risk management developed by the government must be made open access and accurate with help from the private sector. Introduction of signage for warning and gathering at safe refuge places in the settlement with emergency staple items must be proposed.
  10. Post Event Recovery- Planning for inspection, repair and debris removal is vital for post event recovery in events such as floods. Designated temporary housing aids post event recovery. Counselling by seniors and representatives helps to stabilize communication channels in times of severe distress.

These strategies fulfil the eight critical functions of a resilient city which are – to deliver basic needs, safeguard human life, protect and maintain and enhance assets, facilitate human relationships and identity, promote knowledge, defend the rule of law, justice and equity, support livelihoods and stimulate economic prosperity.

Absorption of the above global risk and resilience frameworks into the local coastal settlements in Thane critically depends upon the participation of various stakeholders. First and foremost are the koli fishermen who have resided in these settlements for centuries and have traditional knowledge and ways of negotiating with nature and the tides. The older kolis imparting this knowledge to the younger generation can help in designing early warning systems.

The children and youth may be involved in volunteer activities for social awareness and community organization. Women as the first responders to climate change help in decision making, managing water resources, encouraging hygiene and waste management activities in the settlement. The governmental departments of water, urban development, pollution control are required to generate maps and to monitor the coastal areas through legal provisions. Local businesses and philanthropists are required to fund projects for urban regeneration and social upliftment.

Scientific institutions such as Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) can provide expert guidance and social NGOs and environmental sector can support the interface between the government and the locals. Media journalists have the potential to spread knowledge about the vulnerabilities of Thane city and actions needed for its climate resilience. Such promotional activities will help in attracting investments and may lead to replication models by other such communities.

To summarize, the coastal settlements in Thane can become resilient to urban risks when the different sectors in the city are sensitively analysed and global commitments are met in a systematic manner, with the harmonious engagement of the numerous stakeholders.

References:

  1.  5 Reasons Why Climate Action Needs Women, April 2019. (https://unfccc.int/news/5-reasons-why-climate-action-needs-women)'
  2. Centre notifies revised eco zone around Thane flamingo sanctuary, May 2021. (https://bit.ly/3wZdL6A)
  3. Changes in cluster plan: Thane to remove gaonthans from the list: Civic body to revise 44 urban renewal plans; fisherfolk wants separate plan for their settlements, July 2018.  (https://bit.ly/3xrhL0h)
  4. City Resilience Framework, City Resilience Index, April 2014.
  5. Development of Thane’s People’s Biodiversity Register is underway, December 2019. (https://bit.ly/32YcUFz)
  6. District Disaster Management Plan, District Disaster Management Authority, Mumbai City District, 2019. (https://bit.ly/3j7WUKs)
  7. Enhancing climate resilience of India’s coastal communities, February 2017. (https://bit.ly/3nvvkH6)
  8. Evidence Based Infrastructure: Curacao. National Infrastructure Systems Modelling to Support Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Development. May 2018. (UNOPS, ITRC, Oxford) (https://bit.ly/2UxZQWH)
  9. Mumbai’s newest open space is a paradise few know about, February 2021. (https://bit.ly/3zTlKng)
  10. Observing morphological changes in natural land form through archived satellite images: Case Study of the Thane Creek, February 2015. (https://bit.ly/3nvwuCH)
  11. Planning for climate change in indigenous coastal settlements. (Panjwani, P., April 2021. Earthen and wood vernacular heritage and climate change conference, ICOMOS)
  12. Sustainable Development Goals, United Nations. (https://sdgs.un.org/goals)
  13. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030. (https://bit.ly/2TWwalR)
  14. Thane commences pilot action to strengthen climate resilience, May 2020. (https://bit.ly/3aLdKKq)
  15. Urban Green Growth Strategies for Indian Cities, 2015 (https://bit.ly/2R91Sup) UNDRR_Disaster resilience scorecard for cities (CDRI Masterclass, April 2021)

Priyanka Panjwani is a conservation architect and a design professional from Mumbai and currently based in Thane, India.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI).

 

 

Priyanka Panjwani

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