Urban living in an age of climate change

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

Cancers are on the rise. So are diseases such as malaria, dengue and filaria. At least some of this can be traced back to climate change impacts. It is imperative therefore that citizens of large metros learn to alter behaviour to prepare themselves for life in an age of climate change.
Water shortages, health issues, increased fire risk and even social breakdown of law and order are only some of the problems that experts say will rise thanks to climate change. Here are some ideas that came up as a result of meetings held in Mumbai. With minor adaptations, the ideas could be applied to any other large metropolis.
  1. Readying for water shortages: rain water harvesting is already compulsory for all new buildings and progressively over the next few months and years, all old buildings that seek permission from the BMC for any major repairs or developments are going to be asked to commit themselves to undertaking rainwater harvesting as a condition.

    Action Point: Explore the potential of rainwater harvesting and drainage and limited (sealed) storage. Immediate steps such as channeling air conditioner and kitchen water to garden plants through a gravity drip irrigation system would be both cheap and effective. This would involve only very minor plumbing work at a low cost. Fallen leaves should be used to improve soil fertility and help retain soil moisture.

  2. Cutting future electricity bills: Mumbai is progressively destined to suffer power cuts, as most other Indian cities do. The cost of power has already risen. Apart from this, with climate change a reality, the Ministry of Alternate Energy at the Centre offers quite substantial subsidies for those who voluntarily opt to set up alternate energy infrastructures. Normally it would take around five years to recoup any capital investment made from saving in our power bills, but with rising tariffs on the anvil, this period too is likely to be reduced.

    Action Point: Most buildings have considerable roof space where solar collectors can be fitted. In the first instance these could easily meet all campus electricity requirements without any resort to the grid. In the event of future locality power cuts, off-grid power would greatly enhance building security.

  3. Enhancing security: Security cameras are welcome additions to the arsenal against  rising crime rate in the city.

    Action Point: Housing complexes should examine the possibility of installing alarms that are connected directly from individual homes to the police station and to neighbouring flats to speed up emergency responses. Residents should nominate one Member to assume personally responsibility for security.

  4. Preventing and fighting future fires: Housing Societies must  consult the Fire Brigade to establish whether their new fire tenders are able to turn into the their campuses in the event of a fire. This should be of particular concern to residents of upper floors.

    Action Point: Residents should examine a) entrance gates b) undertake drills to rapidly remove parked cars in a hurry c) eliminate risk from stored inflammable materials in garages and stairwells. 

  5. Pest management: No pest management professional can legitimately claim to "eliminate" pests -- by toxic, or non-toxic means. At best they can help us reduce the problem to tolerable limits. Anyone making a claim to the contrary is trying to hoodwink people for commercial gain. Carpet bombing campuses with toxins is the least effective way to handle the problem as this would merely expose us to carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting substances. These ironically damage our immune systems, particularly of children, the elderly and the infirm... without solving the problem. Pesticides also have the inevitable effect of killing the urban predators (praying mantis', geckos, frogs, owls, cats) that would otherwise keep pests in check.

    Action Point: It makes sense for us to work as a community and make small behavioural changes involving a) a pathological attitude to cleanliness that makes our neighbourhood less inviting to pests b) take vigorous steps in our own homes to reduce the number of pests in the manner each of us deems fit (c) eliminate small pools of stagnant water in our flats and in the compound.