Urban poor at higher risk to climate change

Conference: Rapid urbanisation could be a major hurdle in Bhutan’s attempt in addressing climate change, if the current trend continues, international climate change experts said.

While Bhutanese population is predominantly rural, 69 percent, the urban population has been accelerating rapidly and is projected to increase even faster.

From an estimated five percent in 1980, urbanisation increased to 15 percent in 1994, and 30.9 percent in 2005.  The urban population grew by 3.5 percent, two times faster than the national population (1.8 percent), during the past 11 years (1994-2005).

The works and human settlement ministry estimates the urban population growth of about 135 percent by 2020.  This is estimated using the population growth rate of 1.28 percent and the urbanisation rate of 60 percent.

International climate change experts at the three-day regional conference on ‘Reducing risks and increasing resilience’ that ended yesterday said the region has a serious challenge in tackling the impacts in the urban areas.

However, Bhutan is not alone.

Director of Climate and Development Knowledge Network, Asia, Ali Tauqeer Sheikh, said while the region has the highest population growth rate, urbanisation rate is almost double that.

“In the coming decades, most of the planet’s population will be living in urban areas, and most of the poor will be living in urban areas” he said.  Poverty and vulnerability are related closely.

While the poor tend to be more resilient in general, urban poor are more vulnerable. “When the rural poor face a disaster, a piece of land, some seeds and some social collateral relationships help them restart their lives.” But the urban poor, he said, become dependent on other agencies to provide them water, ration, medicine, and shelter, among others.

An inclusive development policy tackling poverty, avoiding inaction and maladaptive solutions of climate change could help Bhutan build resilience against the impacts of global warming, experts say.

The director said city governments are untrained in addressing these issues and not experienced in planning for impacts of climate change. “We can’t win the climate game without winning the poverty game.”

A professor of University of Maryland and Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Anand Patwardhan, said, “More important in the context of urban resilience, is what we should not do, so we don’t see further risks in the future.”

Rapid urbanisation could lead to proliferation of urban slums and squatter settlements, because of shortage of housing.

The professor said that informal settlements have high exposure to climate hazards – the root causes are often economic – without addressing them long-term resilience cannot be achieved. “Adaptation is not one off project, so need a sustained long-term project,”

In order to respond, it is necessary to measure things, which often doesn’t happen. Further, most loses in the developing world are uninsured.

Most estimates of losses due to weather events and climate-related hazards focus on insured losses (private sector), damage to public infrastructure and mortality.

“That’s only the tip of the iceberg because in the developing world insurance markets are non-existent or not well developed,” he said adding that impacts are economic as well as noneconomic.

There is a whole range of social and economic consequences of disasters that are not measured. “And if we don’t measure, we have difficulty in managing,” he said.

By Tshering Palden

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