Is people power the key to urban resilience in a changing climate?
Community based adaptation (CBA) has a lot to offer in terms of enhancing people’s resilience to climate shocks in urban environments. This is also the focus of this year’s International CBA conference (CBA10) in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
But what does urban CBA look like? What in fact is an urban community?
Cities attract people of all types, many looking for economic opportunity. Urban populations are complex, dynamic and diverse, inequalities are high, and trust and social capital often low. Locating and working with climate vulnerable communities is certainly not easy in this context, not is engaging the attention of city governments to focus their efforts on low income poor and informal residents when they need to sustain the city’s economic growth potential and are pressured by the interests of business, political actors and wealthy elites for service delivery and an enabling environment.
Rapid urban expansion, often unplanned and unanticipated, as well as unexpected impacts of climate change, challenge the ability of governments to keep up with demand, let alone serve informal ‘illegal’ slum dwellers or transform their services to be robust, flexible and responsive to these changes. Slums are problems easily ignored, where informal power structures and risk of exploitation of residents may be the norm. Facing multiple vulnerabilities and risks – of eviction, insecurity, food security, and poor sanitation and health to name a few – the impacts of climate change increases risks and future uncertainty.
Local urban power structures often dictate the extent to which vulnerable communities can achieve more resilient livelihoods and realise their aspirations. Can CBA become a catalyst for strengthening their inclusion, mobilising participation of all concerned, across their cultural diversity, interest groups and levels, in analysis and decision making for resilience? Can it tap into local innovation and youth enthusiasm for access to knowledge and information, self-organisation and deciding local action?
Extreme events hit low-income areas hardest; participation of their residents in early warning for early action systems is critical for protecting lives and assets and timely responses. Better still, multi-stakeholder systems with vertical linkages to formal systems and a clear win-win outcome in the face of disaster could challenge existing governance barriers and bring informal and formal structures together around a common problem. Experiences of people power in poor urban areas, and strengthening their social capital and adaptive capacity may be the answer to urban resilience.
Fiona Percy, Regional Coordinator, Africa Adaptation Learning Programme (ALP), CARE International