An article in the May 14th issue of Kuensel highlighted potential environmental problems associated with reduction in forest cover. As predicted, if the forest cover reduces significantly, there will be drastic reduction in ecosystem services and increase incidences of floods, landslides and human ailments among others. The article also mentions about development ecosystem based adaptation policies and legal frameworks and  practical implementation so as to improve ecosystem services.

 Thimphu, like other urban centers is facing numerous challenges brought about by rapid urbanization. Approximately one seventh of the country’s population lives in Thimphu. Rural-urban migration is increasing and those who migrate mostly live in informal settlements and have limited access to basic services, are poor and socially marginalized.  These informal settlements have limited access to sanitation and water services.

In addition to social and economic impacts, rapid urbanization has also resulted in reduced ecosystem services. This has added an additional burden to the poor urban communities who are already facing socio-economic challenges. The clearing of land for infrastructure development has led to degradation of wetlands and forest ecosystems. The “heat island effect” is a reality as vegetation is removed and buildings and roads radiate more heat. With replacement of forest land by urban infrastructure, water holding capacity of the soil is reduced and erosion increases due to increased runoff.  Urban flooding is also a reality as runoffs are channeled to storm water systems.

Climate change impacts are expected to worsen the social and economic challenges faced by the urban poor. Flooding and landslides in urban areas are expected to increase due to increased rainfall intensity. Rainfall variability brought about by climate change will make water resource planning, such as availability planning difficult.

The integration of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) into urban planning is seen as a solution to reduce vulnerability of the poor to the impacts of climate change and also ensure sustainable growth of cities. However, barriers do exist in integration. The EbA approach is a relatively new concept and there is limited understanding.  This limited understanding is further compounded by limited financial resources in municipal bodies to implement EbA.

The project titled “Building Climate Resilience in Urban Systems through Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) in the Asia – Pacific Region” is presently being implemented by Thimphu Thromde and co-ordinated by NEC. The project is funded by UNEP through the GEF Trust Fund.

This project was conceived with a view to address the barriers in integrating ecosystem based adaptation in urban planning, implement ecosystem based adaptation measures within Thimphu Thromde so as to reduce the vulnerability of city residents. The project defines a list of activities which are directed towards achievement of the following outcomes:

1.  The strengthening of institutional capacity and capacity-building within city management authorities to plan and implement urban EbA; 

2. The demonstration of EbA to reduce the vulnerability of poor, urban communities; and 

3. The strengthening of the knowledge base for supporting the design of urban EbA interventions and an increase in public awareness of the positive potential of urban EbA interventions to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts. 

The activities include; building capacity of city management officials to enable them to integrate EbA into urban planning (to be achieved through trainings, workshops and person to person interaction), rehabilitation of degraded riparian zones and riverbeds using climate resilient species (along Thimphu river), implementation of rain water harvesting systems for urban agriculture and green spaces and develop climate resilient plantations in areas earmarked for resettlement of informal settlers, public spaces and agricultural fields.

On its own, Thimphu Thromde has initiated development of parks and green spaces and construction of permanent facilities for informal settlers. This project will build on the efforts of Thimphu Thromde. Keeping a city environmentally friendly under ever changing physical dynamics is a huge task. In this regard, one must take note of the efforts of Thimphu Thromde. While it would be desirable to keep facilities in perfect order for the benefit of the citizens, sometimes it is difficult due to circumstances which hamper the efforts.

Contributed by 

Karma Chhophel