When I visited Vietnam for the first time three years ago, I imagined a Ho Chi Minh City out of Hollywood movies, with panoramic buildings of French architecture, tree-lined, long boulevards and the melting pot of Indochine cuisine.
After I began working in the city as an urban professional in 2012, I quickly learned to see it as much more: a vibrant, young, hip and energetic city with a vision and determination to become a leading metropolis in East Asia, not just in Vietnam, one of the fastest-growing emerging economies in the region.
And it has taken all the right steps just to do that, combining infrastructure development with social services to make sure the city is more livable and growth more sustainable. As the World Cities Day approaches, I thought it would be useful to share the city’s experience with the world.
World Champion boxer Manny Pacquiao is a living icon in the Philippines, his legendary battles are well known and brought him considerable fame. This fame and recognition is being used by the Philippine government (through Project NOAH) to save lives and minimize losses from disasters—where an infographic gradient links flood depth to Pacquiao’s famous height. In other words, to encourage adoption of early warning advisories and make flood hazard projections more interesting, yellow colors on interactive flood hazard maps equate to flood levels up to Pacquiao’s knees, while a dangerous, bright red color corresponds to high flood levels that are taller than Pacquiao himself.
Currently around 43.2 million people or 30% of the population of Bangladesh live in poverty. Alarmingly, this figure includes 24.4 million extremely poor who are not even able to meet the basic needs of food expenditure. These numbers will be even higher if we do not address climate change. Preparation for climate change is essential for poverty alleviation to be sustainable.
Concentration of poor in climate-vulnerable coastal region
In densely populated and land scarce Bangladesh, poor households are disadvantaged with regards to land access, and many end up settling in low-lying regions close to the coast. The poverty map developed by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, World Food Program and the World Bank identifies a high incidence of poverty near the coast, where 11.8 million poor are located in 19 coastal districts in 2010.
Increasing flood risks create a major political and institutional challenge for the world’s coastal cities as ambitious and proactive action at the local level over the next decades will be needed to avoid large-scale flood disasters. However, the implementation of flood risk management policies meets many obstacles.
In a recent study written with colleagues Colin Green, Robert Nicholls and Jan Corfee-Morlot as part of an OECD project on urban vulnerability, we estimate how flood risks could change in the future in 136 coastal cities, in response to increasing population and wealth, local environmental change, and climate change. We find that because current flood defenses and urbanization patterns have been designed for past environmental conditions, even a moderate change in sea level is sufficient to make them inadequate, thus magnifying flood losses to catastrophic levels. If no action is taken to reduce flood vulnerability, most coastal cities would become inhospitable and dangerous places to live, with annual losses in excess of $1 trillion dollars.
‘It’s raining, it’s pouring. The old man is snoring.’ Truth be told, I apparently snore, and I suppose I’m not that young anymore. But hard to believe, I’m sure this nursery rhyme is not about me. And despite the recent Noah-like floods in Europe, Bangkok, Calgary, Dhaka, Jakarta, New York and Toronto, it’s not really about any one city, or any one country, or even any one continent. But, ‘went to bed and bumped his head. And won’t get up in the morning,’ aptly describes our current political paralysis.
Many children know this song. Soon they will learn how their grandfathers and fathers slept through the rain.
Here in troubled Toronto and gritty Calgary, there was the inevitable debate on whether or not the recent floods could be attributed to climate change. ‘If it’s this bad now, what’s the future hold?’ people wondered. ‘Sleepwalking into trouble,’ came to mind for many.
Photo: Bishwa Pandey/World Bank
Like other countries in the Eastern Caribbean region, Belize is highly vulnerable to natural hazards such as coastal and inland flooding, high winds, fire, and drought, all of which are being exacerbated by climate change. And like its neighbors, Belize is doing something about it. Following the lead of other Caribbean countries involved in the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), Belize is initiating a comprehensive climate resilience investment plan that spans across sectors to mainstream climate change in its national development planning and action.
Drive on any of Belize’s four main highways and you will quickly understand how tough it is to maintain this main network connecting Belmopan and Belize City, the two key economic zones. Frequent floods impede commuting and the transportation of goods and can cut off the population for several days. It’s only going to get worse, as recent studies indicate that Belize will undergo a warming and drying trend and is expected to endure even more frequent and intense rainfalls. Seventy percent of its people live in low-lying areas prone to recurrent flooding, so reducing vulnerability to natural disasters is at the core of Belize’s development challenge.
It is a lot for one nation to face alone. That is why the government of Belize is reaching out to the international community for support and guidance on setting a path toward long-term solutions to protect its population and maintain economic prosperity. When the government of Belize approached the World Bank to support them on improving climate resilience, I was excited to see how we could apply lessons learned from other Eastern Caribbean countries involved in the PPCR to help Belize develop its own investment plan in support of a national climate-resilient development path.
Here in Mozambique, the rainy season has brought disaster for as many as 110,000 people living in the Limpopo Valley, as surging water over recent days has flooded their crops, capsized their towns and villages, and forced their evacuation to higher ground. Forty people are believed to have died in the floods so far. It’s expected that as many as 150,000 people may ultimately be affected.
A UN reconnaissance plane that flew over the Valley on Monday took photos of mile after square mile of crops and farm land under brown muddy water, a result of the Limpopo River and others nearby bursting their banks. It's at times like this that you really appreciate the powerful humanitarian role of the UN.
Mozambican President Armando Guebuza quickly went to the scene to see for himself how the flooding had turned communities upside down.
Talking with people from the town of Chokwé and surrounding areas at an emergency shelter, the President said, "we are with you, we weep with you, because we know that you have lost many of your goods including your houses, your goats, your cattle and much that is of great value."
All climate negotiations have been based on staying below 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Yet it looks increasingly unlikely that that will be possible. A new report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided, suggests that there is a 40 percent chance that we will reach 4°C by 2100 even if we stick to the agreed emission reduction commitments.
What does water look like in a 4°C world?
Put simply: it's complex. Water is a complicated system and one of the major impacts of climate change is the effect on the hydrological (water) cycle. These impacts will coincide with an unprecedented increase in demand for water because of population and economic growth.
A number of years ago, I started a journey with seven poor communities located about 380 kilometres southwest of Addis Ababa, by a mountain called Humbo. The idea was to allow a degraded mountain to regenerate, and the communities would earn carbon credits for their efforts.
I still hear this phrase echoing in my ears: “With the meager amount of resources they have, this is an impossible agenda”. But the communities were stubborn and dedicated, and last week, the project was issued 73,339 carbon credits (temporary Certified Emission Reductions, tCERs) for their efforts. Similar payments will add up to $700,000 over the next 10 years from the BioCarbon Fund.
The Humbo communities wanted to see a transformation because they knew that their lands had been stripped as a result of unregulated cattle grazing and massive clearance of vegetation to meet their excessive demand for timber, firewood and charcoal. Soil erosion and flooding had intensified as a result. They could see their farmlands increasingly covered with silt, cobbles and boulders. Above all, they could attest that their farmlands were losing fertility, becoming unproductive and yields were down.