When the earthquake hit on the Saturday of 25th April last year, 35-year-old Bishnu Ghale was working in the fields near her house in Khanigaon VDC of Nuwakot district. The quake destroyed her house, but she was thankful her husband and three children were alive. She was thankful for a steady job, which meant she could quickly muster up the supplies to build a shelter and provide food for her family.
A month before the earthquake, Bishnu started working as a Road Maintenance Group worker, one of a group of 12 men and women who manage a 24 km stretch of rural road from Nuwakot to Malabhanjyang. She looked after the routine maintenance of the road, cleaned the drains, filled pits, cleared minor blockades and planted trees. Working 6 days a week, this earned her up to 11,000 Rupees a month, enough to keep her family going through the difficult months ahead.
When my team and I saw this boat passing by us in July 2013 in rural Bangladesh, near the border with Mizoram, Northeast India, and Myanmar, I felt immediately empathic.
How many people are on that boat? Eighty? Does it have a motor? Can those people swim, especially the women? No lifejackets! I wondered how long their trip was, and then I thought: What if they needed a bathroom break? Memories of my family's escape from Vietnam by boat in 1981 flashed back—34 refugees jammed into a traditional fishing boat normally home to a family of seven, with no motor, no life jackets, and no toilets! We floated around the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean for 16 days. Most of us could not swim, certainly not the women and girls.
Fifteen years ago, I started a new job in the Sindhupalchowk district in Central Nepal. I was working in the rural energy development section of the District Development Committee and supervised technical support for micro hydropower plants (MHPs) in the area.
My job also entailed reaching out to local communities and ensuring they were deeply involved, from installation to maintenance, in bringing micro hydro to their villages.
During my time in Sindhupalchowk, I witnessed firsthand the dramatic and positive changes hydro-powered electricity brought to people’s lives: houses lit up, radio and television sets came to life, mobile phones were easier to use, schools could run computer classes, small-scale enterprises flourished, and shops stayed open longer and offered more products. Moreover, the newly generated power contributed to improving the working conditions of women employed in local agro-processing mills as mechanical automation replaced labour-intensive manual processing.
y. Still, as the national grid was gradually deployed into rural areas – albeit with little coordination between the Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) and the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), respectively responsible for the national grid and alternative energy promotion -- villages with both existing MHPs and a new grid connection faced an entirely novel problem.
In places like Bhuktangle, Parbat and Righa, Baglung, detailed feasibility studies and construction of MHPs had already been completed when the grid was extended to these areas. As a result, more than 50% of existing customers switched from their MHP-generated electricity services and the ensuing lower electricity usage made it difficult to pay off the loan that was taken out for the building of the plant. Ten districts in 2010 showed similar patterns as about 11% of MHPs are now competing with the national grid.
Urbanization growth is already stretching cities’ resources. and Karachi ranked 135 out of 140 countries in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2015 livability index.
With only 43% of its households with access to electricity, Odisha’s economic development lags behind that of other states in India. However, it is home to rich water reserves, wildlife, forest, minerals, and renewable energy sources, which together can help boost the state’s economy.
Let’s take the example of solar energy.
In recent years, Odisha and its international partners have set out to boost the development of renewable energy in the state and now aim to identify and scale up potential solar power sites.
Yet, challenges remain.
Despite 300 clear sunny days every year representing a huge solar potential (Odisha receives an average solar radiation of 5.5 kWh/ Sq. m area), only 1.29 percent of Odisha’s total energy capacity stems from renewable sources.
Considering that Odisha is planning to increase its solar capacity from 31.5 Megawatts (MW) to 2,300 MW in the next five years, the state must step up its efforts and enact relevant policies to meet its solar energy goals. This, in turn, could benefit local businesses and spur economic growth.
The mountain kingdom of Bhutan may not seem an obvious place to look for lessons on addressing climate change. But on a recent visit I was impressed with how much this small country has achieved and also with its ambition. Bhutan has much to teach South Asia and the wider world. These lessons are especially relevant as the world negotiates in Paris a new pact on climate change at the International Climate Change Summit, known as COP21, which we all hope will eventually move the global economy to a low carbon and more resilient path.
The talks aimed at agreeing a way to keep global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial era levels. There is widespread agreement that going above this threshold would have serious consequences. South Asia is among the regions of the world that is likely to be most affected by climate change. We are already experiencing this. There is increasing variability of the monsoon rainfall, more heavy rainfalls such as those that caused the recent flooding in India, and an increase in the number of droughts.
A World Bank report in 2013 predicted that even if the warming climate was kept at 2 degrees then this could threaten the lives of millions of people in South Asia. The region's dense urban populations face extreme heat, flooding and diseases and millions of people could be trapped in poverty. Droughts could especially affect north-western India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
These are big problems. They may look much bigger than anything Bhutan - a very small country in a populous region - can teach South Asia and the world. But I see three lessons. Firstly, a commitment to ambitious goals will be critical to save the world from climate disaster. To stop the world from warming too much, climate experts estimate that global greenhouse gas emissions must be cut by up to 70 percent by 2050. Carbon neutrality (zero emissions) must be achieved within this century.
यह एक सच्चाई है: लकड़ी, चारकोल, कोयले, गोबर के उपलों और फसल के बचे हुए हिस्सों सहित ठोस जलावन (सॉलिड फ्यूल) की खुली आग और पारंपरिक चूल्हों में खाना पकाने से घर के भीतर होने वाला वायु प्रदूषण दुनिया में, हृदय और फेफड़ों की बीमारी और सांस के संक्रमण के बाद मृत्यु का चौथा सबसे बड़ा कारण है।
लगभग 290 करोड़ लोग, जिनमें से ज़्यादातर महिलाएँ हैं, अभी भी गंदगी, धुआँ और कालिख- पैदा करने वाले चूल्हों और ठोस जलावन से खाना पकाती हें। हालत यह है कि इतने ज़्यादा लोग इन खतरनाक उपकरणों का इस्तेमाल कर रहे हैं जो भारत और चीन की कुल आबादी से भी ज़्यादा हैं।
इसे बदलने की जरूरत है। और बदलाव हो रहा है जैसा कि मैंने पिछले सप्ताह में एक्रा, घाना में संपन्न क्लीन कुकिंग फोरम 2015 की कई बातचीतों को सुना। घाना के पेट्रोलियम मंत्री और महिला व विकास उपमंत्री की बात सुनकर, मुझे अहसास हुआ कि सर्वाधिक जरूरतमंद परिवारों को स्वच्छ चूल्हे व स्वच्छ ईंधन उपलब्ध कराने की गहरी इच्छा निश्चित रूप से यहाँ मौजूद है। लेकिन इच्छाओं को सच्चाई में बदलना एक चुनौती है। यह बात न केवल घाना में बल्कि दुनिया के कई हिस्सों के लिए भी सही है।
बाद में मैंने इस बारे में काफी सोचा खास तौर पर जब हमने पेरिस में होने वाली जलवायु परिवर्तन कॉन्फ्रेंस (सीओपी21) पर ध्यान दिया जहाँ दुनिया के नेता जलवायु परिवर्तन के दुष्प्रभाव कम करने के वैश्विक समझौते पर सहमति बनाने के लिए इकट्ठा होंगे। उस लक्ष्य तक पहुंचने की एक महत्वपूर्ण कुंजी ऊर्जा के स्वच्छ स्रोतों को अपनाना भी है। इस लिहाज से, संयुक्त राष्ट्र संघ का सस्टेनेबल एनर्जी गोल (एसडीजी7) का एक मकसद - किफायती, भरोसेमंद, वहनीय (सस्टेनेबिल) और आधुनिक ऊर्जा तक सभी की पहुंच सुनिश्चित करना - यह भी है कि ऐसे 290 करोड़ लोगों तक खाना पकाने के स्वच्छ समाधान पहुंचाएँ जाएँ, जो आज उनके पास नहीं हैं।
Inclusion means that all people and communities have access to rights, opportunities, and resources. Urbanization provides cities the potential to increase prosperity and livability. However, many suffer from poor environments, social instability, inequality, and concentrated pockets of poverty that create exclusion. In South Asia, as in other regions, segregation within cities cause poorer areas to suffer from the lack of access to facilities and services that exacerbate misery and crime.
Medellin, Colombia was once the most dangerous city on the planet with astounding gaps between the wealthy and the poor, vastly different access to services, and the highest homicide rate in the world. Its turnaround has been impressive. Much of the progress has been attributed to the thoughtfulness of its planning to ensure greater inclusion. What can South Asian cities learn from this South American city?
Planning policies and action have often been concentrated on the broad structures and functions of cities. However, drilling down the details can realize an inclusive urban environment that improves life for all in public spaces. In our definition, inclusive cities provide:
- Mobility: A high level of movement between different neighborhoods that provide opportunities for jobs, education, and culture;
- Services: All neighborhoods have a basic level of facilities and affordable necesities such as housing, water, and sanitation;
- Accessibility: Urban spaces are designed so that everyone can easily and safety enjoy public spaces.
What happened in Medellin, Colombia? Medellin offers an inspiring example of how improved planning and sound implementation can increase social inclusion. Two decades ago, Medellin was the homicide capital of the world. Illicit drugs were a major export and hillside slums were particularly affected by violence. In response, the government created public facilities inclusive of libraries and schools, public transportation links, and recreational spaces in the poorest neighborhoods; and connecting them with the city’s commercial and industrial centers. As a result of a planning model that seeks to serve all residents, the city has become safer, healthier, more educated and equitable.
Urbanization provides the countries of South Asia with the opportunity to transform their economies to join the ranks of richer nations. But to reap the benefits of urbanization, nations must address the challenges it poses. Growing urban populations put pressure on a city’s infrastructure; they increase the demand for basic services, land and housing, and they add stress to the environment.
Of all these congestion forces, one of the most serious for health and human welfare is ambient air pollution from vehicle emissions and the burning of fossil fuels by industry and households, according to the World Bank report, “Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial Transformation for Prosperity and Livability.”
Particularly harmful are high concentrations of fine particulate matter, especially that of 2.5 microns or less in diameter (PM2.5). They can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the likelihood of asthma, lung cancer, severe respiratory illness, and heart disease.
Data released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May 2014 shows Delhi to have the most polluted air of any city in the world, with an annual mean concentration of PM2.5 of 152.6 μg/m3 . That is more than 15 times greater than the WHO’s guideline value and high enough to make Beijing’s air—known for its bad quality—look comparatively clean.
But Delhi is far from unique among South Asia’s cities.