Can SE Asian workers take the heat? Researchers tackle rising temperatures

Can SE Asian workers take the heat? Researchers tackle rising temperatures

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK, Jan 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The effects rising heat has on vulnerable workers in Southeast Asia is the focus of a new study that also aims to find out what employers and authorities can do to reduce the impact of soaring temperatures in cities.

The three-year study, led by the National University of Singapore (NUS), will examine how heat stress impacts outdoor and indoor workers, including women in Singapore, Hanoi and Phnom Penh, said Jason Lee, the lead researcher.

The project, titled Heat-Safe, views heat as a “complex socio-environmental problem” that affects workers not just in the workplace, but also in public spaces and at home, resulting in lasting mental stress and other health concerns, said Lee.

“The assumption is that only outdoor workers are affected, but factory workers also face heat stress – and in Southeast Asia these are mostly women in garment factories,” said Lee, a research associate professor at NUS.

“The study is all the more relevant now, when we have seen the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on migrant workers who make up the bulk of construction and shipyard workers in Singapore, and garment workers in other countries,” he said.

Heat-related deaths are soaring around the world, and higher temperatures resulted in 302 billion working hours lost globally in 2019 compared with 199 billion in 2000, according to a recent study in The Lancet medical journal.

A 2019 report by the International Labour Organization forecast that an increase in heat stress would lead to productivity losses equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs in 2030.

Besides monitoring hourly heat levels in select workplaces in the three Southeast Asian cities, Heat-Safe will also evaluate psychological strain on workers and the impact on fertility and birth rates among women workers, Lee said.

The study, backed by the Singapore government, will also examine home conditions of workers, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Wednesday.

“If they are unable to rest comfortably at home, that affects their vulnerability,” said Lee, a thermal physiologist who has studied the effects of heat on the armed forces.

While the study launched on Oct. 1, travel restrictions and curbs on movement because of the coronavirus have posed challenges, but researchers are now gearing up for easing restrictions and the warmer months ahead, Lee said.

More governments are recognising the growing health and economic threats to their workforce from scorching temperatures, exacerbated in many cases by high humidity.

A study published in November on the impact of heat stress on workers in Australia said that current health and safety laws are inadequate, and that employers prioritise productivity over workers’ health.

People whose jobs are “less secure” – including temporary, on-demand and migrant workers – are at greater risk, said the study by the University of Technology Sydney.

“Questions of social justice are deeply embedded in climate change and rising temperatures,” it said.

In Singapore, more than three-quarters of total coronavirus cases were linked to crowded dormitories that house more than 300,000 foreign workers, leading the government to pledge to improve their living conditions.

Elsewhere in the region, migrant workers have been dumped or persecuted during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’d like to think there is greater pressure now on governments and employers to take action to better protect vulnerable workers,” said Lee.

“It is time we paid attention to the working and living conditions of these workers.”

Read the original story here.
European Commission publishes the new report on disaster risks in the EU

European Commission publishes the new report on disaster risks in the EU

The European Commission has published the ‘Overview of Natural and Man-made Disaster Risks the European Union May Face’. The 2020 edition presents the latest available evidence on disaster risks, such as floods, wildfires or diseases, that threaten the EU, drawing on the national risk assessments developed by the EU Member States and on the Commission’s cross-sectoral policy and scientific work.

The report recognises that the coronavirus pandemic is the worst emergency seen in EU history and also warns that disaster risks are not limited to infectious diseases.

Experience shows that even with the high level of protection attained in the EU, multiple natural and man-made hazards can and have brought loss of life and high economic and environmental cost.

Based on available data, disasters caused by natural hazards only cost the EU nearly 100,000 lives and more than €500 billion of economic losses between 1980 and 2017. Infectious diseases and heatwaves were the biggest ‘killers’, while storms, floods and earthquakes were the costliest natural hazards in terms of economic loss.

Top risks

The review of national risk assessments suggests that the top 5 disaster risks of concern to national authorities across the EU are floods, extreme weather events such as heatwaves, industrial and nuclear accidents and wildfires.

Other risks that receive considerable attention in national and the Commission’s reports include epidemics, disruption of critical infrastructure, terrorism, cyber threats, seismic risks and animal and plant diseases.

Prevention for the future

The overview cautions that in future, we can expect more extreme events and increasing damage.

Climate change is bringing along more extreme weather events, technological developments are changing the face of man-made threats. Urbanisation is one of the factors behind the growing exposure to hazards, while environmental degradation and ageing societies contribute to reduced resilience.

Growing instability abroad, geopolitical tensions and diversification of hostile groups are behind the increasing security threats such as terrorism, cyber and complex hybrid threats.

Against this complex backdrop, it is crucial to have arrangements in place for effective prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery from disasters. Understanding disaster risks and monitoring their development is the first step towards effective risk reduction.

The report also highlights the importance of further action to address major risk drivers, increase cooperation across borders and sectors, sustain investment in risk reduction and resilience, boost the EU’s collective capacity to respond to large-scale disasters, build resilience of critical infrastructure and improve risk financing strategies.


The previous overviews of disaster risks in the EU were published by the European Commission in 2014 and 2017. Regular monitoring of disaster risks is an important risk prevention measure under the Union Civil Protection Mechanism.

This practice is also in line with the priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 which promotes good understanding of disaster risks as a basis for risk management policies.

As disasters defy borders, the EU supports national action and promotes cross-border cooperation on disaster risk management. A wide set of EU policies and funds aim to strengthen the collective safety and resilience against disasters in the EU and beyond, with the Union Civil Protection Mechanism being at the heart of this work.

Read the original story here.
Keeping it local: Engaging communities in climate resilience projects in Yangon

Keeping it local: Engaging communities in climate resilience projects in Yangon

By PhyoPhyo Wai, APDC, Jose Arianne Gonzales, Oxfam and Marino Deocariza, Oxfam

Building community resilience to the impacts of climate change is essential in ensuring that vulnerable cities can thrive and survive but involving the community in the process is equally critical.

Myanmar’s capital, Yangon, is vulnerable to several types of disasters, including cyclones, floods, drought, and heatwaves. These events are likely to get worse with climate change as Yangon will also experience increased temperature, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise resulting in saltwater intrusion on coastal areas. The impact of these hazards, shocks, and stresses is exacerbated by unregulated urban development and the loss of green spaces and vegetation cover in the city. In addition, poorly maintained urban infrastructure and inadequate urban service provisions (such as water supply, solid waste management, drainage, and sanitation) increase risk exposure to the residents of the city, limiting their ability to be resilient to impacts and lowering their quality of life.

In July 2020, the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) and Oxfam Great Britain, along with local partner Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), launched the ADB-RETA 9329: Promoting Urban Resilience in Selected Asian Cities–Developing of Pilot Activities and Project Development Support (Subproject 3) or the Community-Led Project (CLP) – in Yangon, Myanmar. This project aims to support poor urban communities through an inclusive resilience planning process – especially women, youth and vulnerable groups – to enhance their well-being even in the face of the impacts caused by disasters and climate change shocks and stressors.

Inclusive and participatory planning

The UCCRTF project is piloting approaches to integrate community-led projects into ongoing or planned ADB projects. The inclusive and participatory workshop brought together city stakeholders to select a climate-vulnerable community in which to pilot the project implementation. Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) plays a significant role in building climate-resilient and sustainable urban systems in Yangon with support from the regional and national government. Thirty-one city stakeholders from the YCDC attended, as well as other Yangon Regional Departments and development partners, and 21 online participants from ADB, UCCRTF, Oxfam GB, and ADPC.

Through the consultation process, stakeholders were able to share their experience and expertise, which guided project design and pilot community selection. City stakeholders and government representatives expressed a strong commitment to the project after the workshop.

 “Normally we, as government personnel, are only approached after organizations have already decided upon the project areas themselves – without hearing local voices and without getting any ideas from us. This is my very first experience participating in this kind of inclusive and transparent workshop, and having a chance to select the project’s areas with having our ideas,” said Daw Saw Sandar Oo Deputy Director, YCDC Urban Planning Authoritym.

The workshop also enabled city stakeholders to identify people to sit on the Community Stakeholders’ Group (CSG). The CSG will lead the implementation of the project in the pilot community, as well as establish agreed criteria for selecting the implementation actions for a community-led project that will be delivered as part of the project.

Zaw Win Aung Assistant Director, YCDC Water Resources and Water Supply Authority, who was one of the participants, stressed the importance of community-led initiatives for developing capacity and ownership of urban development processes. “Community-led projects have the potential of bringing knowledge and skills to the community,” he said. “This can enable them to become accountable leaders and result in innovative ideas that build the capacities of community stakeholder groups”.

Bringing hope to Dala Township

Dala Township has been selected by city stakeholders for the pilot project after being voted as the most vulnerable township in Yangon. Dala has also been considered the most suitable project site by scoring highest in five of the six selection indicators.

Dala Township is located on the southern bank of Yangon River and is prone to regular flooding and riverbank erosion. In 2008, 83 percent of Dala was inundated by Cyclone Nargis. The community also regularly suffers from water scarcity, lacking in a reliable source of potable and domestic water. The township is also known to have high poverty rate and has several informal settlements.

The people of Dala have been experiencing the impacts of climate change. But these hardships will soon be turned into opportunities after being identified by the government and YDCD as an area for future development. Dala Township is expected to experience positive changes in the coming years as the community, assisted by UCCTRF, will work to build climate resilience and improve the lives of its people.

This article was originally posted on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities’ blog.
Cover photo by ArkkrapolA on Pixabay.
Earth is now committed to a 2°C hotter future

Earth is now committed to a 2°C hotter future

By Tim Radford

LONDON, 12 January, 2021 − We Earthlings are now unmistakably on our way to the global climate we promised barely six years ago we’d never reach − a 2°C hotter future.

Some time this year, thanks to fossil fuel combustion and the destruction of natural ecosystems, the levels of carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere will be half as high again as the average for most of human history. That is, they will be more than half-way to doubling.

And the warming already driven by this extra charge of greenhouse gas has reached new heights: 2020, according to one calculation, shares with 2016 the grim accolade of the hottest year in history, at the end of the hottest decade since systematic records began.

A third study warns that yet more warming is now inevitable: the greenhouse gases already released must take average planetary temperatures from the present rise of more than 1°C to beyond 2°C − the limit that 195 nations vowed not to exceed when they met in Paris in 2015.

All three studies are simply progress reports on climate change itself. It is more than a century since scientists began to link carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere with planetary temperatures, and more than 50 years since researchers began systematically monitoring atmospheric CO2 at an observatory in Hawaii, and since the first warnings that rising greenhouse gas levels could precipitate potentially catastrophic climate change.

“Our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2°C”

And this year, says the British Met Office, the ratio will creep up by more than 2 parts per million on last year. That will take the average to beyond 417 ppm for a number of weeks this northern hemisphere spring. And that will be 50% higher than the 278 ppm that was the norm at the close of the 18th century, when humans began to exploit coal, oil and gas as global sources of energy.

“The human-caused build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere is accelerating,” said Richard Betts, of the Met Office. “It took over 200 years for levels to increase by 25%, but now, just 30 years later, we are approaching a 50% increase.”

The last six years have all been in the hottest six years ever recorded, European scientists say in their calculations of the planetary pecking order of annual temperatures. It was 0.6°C warmer than the average for the years 1981-2010. And it is fully 1.25°C above the average for 1850 to 1900.

Europe in particular felt the heat: an average of 1.6° higher than the average for 1981 to 2010. And in the Arctic and in Siberia, temperatures were up to 6°C above the average for the same period.

“It is no surprise that the last decade was the warmest on record, and is yet another reminder of the urgency of ambitious emissions reductions to prevent adverse climate impacts in the future,” said Carlo Buontempo, who directs Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

Delay possible

Carbon dioxide is durable: it stays in the air, and each year’s emissions are added to those of the previous year. To keep the planet’s average temperature to a rise of no more than 1.5°C  the ideal of the Paris Accord in 2015 − then nations must bring global emissions to zero within the next 30 years. In fact the limit of 2°C explicit in the Accord must now, and inevitably, be exceeded at some point: there is already enough greenhouse gas in the mix to guarantee that. The big question is: when.

Chinese and US researchers report in Nature Climate Change that they looked more closely at the pattern of changes in the planet’s surface temperatures, and the impact of low-level clouds that normally reflect heat back into space. And they see regions that have yet to warm, but must do so sooner or later to raise average global temperatures to levels so far not accounted for.

“The important thing to realise is that this has not happened − it is not in the historical record,” said Chen Zhou of Nanjing University, the lead author. “After accounting for this effect, the estimated future warming based on the historical record would be much higher than previous estimates.”

And his co-author Andrew Dessler, of Texas A&M University, said: “The bad news is that our results suggest we have most likely already emitted enough carbon to exceed 2C.”

But this could be delayed by urgent action. “If we can get emissions to net zero soon, it may take centuries to exceed 2°C.” − Climate News Network

This article was originally published on the Climate News Network.
Cover Image: By Chris JL, via ClimateVisuals
2020 Picks from the Acclimatise Article Archive – Financial Services

2020 Picks from the Acclimatise Article Archive – Financial Services

It’s that time of year again! The beginning of a new year marks a great time for dedicating oneself to resolutions, whilst also giving us an opportunity to reflect on the past year and the moments that shaped us. With that spirit of reflection in mind, we sifted through our network’s article archive and selected some of our favourites from the past year. We’ve sorted our favourite articles by topic, to make up a short, three-part series throughout the month of January. To kick things off, we bring you six articles related to climate adaptation for the financial services sector.

While 2020 was a big year in terms of newsworthy moments across the globe, there were also many significant developments within the financial services sector. In September, the United Nation’s Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) released a report on Phase II of its Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) Banking Program with Acclimatise. The new report, “Charting a New Climate”, provides financial institutions with a state-of-the-art blueprint for evaluating physical risks and opportunities. A new learning paper was also launched, one which provides insights on the lessons learnt from implementing Green Climate Fund (GCF) Readiness projects in the Caribbean and aims to inform future Readiness efforts in the region or globally.

Despite the grave conditions many economies are facing due to 2020’s COVID-19-induced lockdowns, expectations for corporates and financial institutions on climate risk analysis and disclosure have not slowed. In fact, climate risk and reporting mandates only appear to be increasing. 2021 will see a continued focus on climate risk analysis in the private sector, in the lead up to the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

Acclimatise has now been acquired by Willis Towers Watson, where we offer joined up services on both physical and transition related-risk analysis.

Launch of “Charting a New Climate: State-of-the-Art Tools and Data for Banks to Assess Credit Risks and Opportunities from Physical Climate Change Impacts

By Acclimatise News

UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) has released a report on physical climate risks and opportunities from Phase II of its Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) Banking Program with climate risk advisory and analytics firm, Acclimatise. The report, “Charting a New Climate”, provides a state-of-the-art blueprint to support financial institutions to navigate the changing physical climate risk landscape.

Read the full article here.

Why climate resilience bonds can make a significant contribution to financing climate change adaptation initiatives

By Maya Dhanjal

There is a rising cost associated with economic damages related to climate change with 2019 being the most expensive year to-date and expected to only get worse. Governments who are mainly responsible for providing this funding are strapped in their ability to mobilise and manage emergency funds. Resilience bonds provide a unique opportunity to hybridise principles in debt securities and insurance policies and ultimately divert available funds into climate-resilient projects that will enhance adaptive capacity, particularly for long-lived infrastructure assets that have to face the test of time and a changing climate.

Read the full article here.

GCF readiness efforts in the Caribbean: Learning from Practice

By Acclimatise News

A new learning paper by Acclimatise provides an insight on the lessons learnt from implementing Green Climate Fund (GCF) Readiness projects in the Caribbean and aims to inform future Readiness efforts in the region or globally.

Read the full article here.

Expectation for corporates and financial institutions on climate risk analysis and disclosure continue to evolve and grow 

By Robin Hamaker-Taylor

As 2020 comes to a close, this article summarises major developments expectations for corporates and financial institutions on climate risk analysis and disclosure in the last quarter of this year. 

Read the full article here.

New report: Protecting low-income communities through climate insurance

By Will Bugler

Since 2015, the InsuResilience Investment Fund (IIF) has worked to build the climate resilience of poor and climate-vulnerable households as well as micro, small and medium enterprises, by increasing climate insurance coverage. A new report “Protecting low-income communities through climate insurance”, takes stock of its experience and achievements to date. 

Read the full article here.

Financing and de-risking nature: The next frontier for financial institutions

By Laura Canevari 

Nature and biodiversity have gained the spotlight this year, becoming the next frontier for financial services. Earlier this year, the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TFND) was launched under the leadership of the Global Canopy, UNDP, UNEP and WWF, aiming to redirect financial flows towards nature-based solutions and nature-adding activities.

Read the full article here.

UCCRTF Cities in Viet Nam Suffer Tourism Shock from COVID-19

UCCRTF Cities in Viet Nam Suffer Tourism Shock from COVID-19

By Thanh Van, UCCRTF Country Resilience Officer for Viet Nam

Over the past decade, tourism has grown to become a vital economic sector for Viet Nam. In 2019, Viet Nam received 18 million international arrivals, up from just over 2 million in the year 2000. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the industry. In March 2020, Viet Nam suspended the issuance of all tourist visas and implemented other measures to stop the spread of the disease, including closure of leisure facilities, enforcing social distancing and banning meeting in large groups. As of November 2020, the country remains closed to foreign tourists. The country recorded a 98 percent year-on-year drop in foreign visitors for April 2020. With no reopening for tourists in sight, the government has called for the promotion of domestic tourism.

COVID-19 and the measures that have been put in place to contain it have affected cities in which ADB’s Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) works, including Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An. The impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector is particularly problematic as the tourism value chain is extensive, encompassing leisure, entertainment, shopping, hotels, and other related services. This has posed significant challenges for cities like Hoi An, which have sought to refocus their attention on attracting visitors from closer to home.

In 2019, Hoi An had a total production value from tourism and services estimated at more than VND 8.5 billion ($ 372 million). The city attracted over 4 million international visitors and was hailed as Asia’s top cultural city destination in the same year. Unfortunately, because of COVID-19, Hoi An’s share of visitors in the first six months of 2020 was down nearly 70 percent compared with the same period in 2019. The number of international visitors has also decreased by more than 70 percent. Hue city faced similar challenges losing about VND 2.25 billion ($ 97 million) in revenue from tourism in the first six months of 2020, with visitor numbers down by 55 percent. There are also likely to be repercussions throughout the wider population, as gender analysis of the labor divide within the tourism sector shows there to be a high proportion of female workers whose livelihoods may be at risk.

In response to this situation, Hue city decided to move away from its long-term policy position of promoting international tourism and instead is pivoting to encourage domestic tourism. In May 2020, Hue organized the Hue Tourism Forum with the theme “Connecting Tourism: Hue – a safe and friendly destination” to implement actions that would promote domestic tourism and support the local tourism industry. The city is now making greater effort to develop and organize festivals and events to attract more local tourists while costs of sightseeing tickets have been reduced. Hue, Da Nang, and Quang Nam cities have also implemented joint action programs to enhance their cooperation and joint promotion of the different tourism strengths each city has to offer.

“The pandemic gives us many lessons about building crisis funds, the development orientation of walking on both feet, developing international and domestic tourism markets,” said Associate Professor Dr Pham Hong Long – Head of Faculty of Tourism Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi National University. “In order to revive the tourism industry in the current context, we must focus on the domestic tourism market with attractive and unique products.”

The Tourism Association of Da Nang city has conducted communications campaigns to improve tourist demand. This includes the “Da Nang misses you – Da Nang is back” campaign to emphasize the message that Da Nang is ready to welcome visitors back from early November to late December. Da Nang will target local customers first, domestic customers, and finally, international customers at the end of this year. Dan Nang is now cooperating with other tourism-centered cities in the central coastal region of Viet Nam, including Hue and Quang Nam. Together, they have implemented a program to recover and develop tourism and enhance the cooperation and promotion of the tourism strengths of each city after the COVID 19 pandemic. This is a vital step in the national approach to tourism recovery as more than 80 percent of international visitors to Viet Nam visit at least one of these three cities.

COVID-19 demonstrates the impact of a large-scale, system-level shock on the tourism sector. There are many parallels to be drawn with the impacts that climate change can bring. Viet Nam’s proactive steps to diversify the sources of tourism will help to build the resilience of the industry. Beyond this, cities can plan for a sustainable tourism sector after the pandemic is under control, and simultaneously build resilience to climate change by making improvements to their urban environment. Investments in transport infrastructure that encourages walking and cycling, for instance, can help to improve air quality, reduce the negative health impact of extreme heat events, and make streets safer and more enjoyable for tourists and citizens alike.

This article was originally published on ADB’s Livable Cities blog.
Cover image from Wikimedia Commons.
Bridging the gap: how women-led federations are strengthening communities in Patna’s informal settlements

Bridging the gap: how women-led federations are strengthening communities in Patna’s informal settlements

By Smriti Singh and Sukrit Nagpal

Following devastation from COVID-19 and monsoon rains, women collectives have been instrumental in securing crucial infrastructure provisions and service delivery.

Women looking at a flooded road.
In the absence of regular collection, waste is strewn in parts of Nehru Nagar. In these areas, drains become central sites for waste disposal and breeding sites for vector diseases (Photo: copyright SEWA Bharat)

India’s urbanisation challenges focus on large metropolitan cities and the proliferation of informal settlements within them. Relatively little is known about the impact of increasing informality of housing in less urbanised and smaller cities.

In 2019, SEWA Bharat, a national federation of organisations led by and for informal women workers, began supporting communities in Nehru Nagar and Mubarakpur, two low-income informal settlements in the city of Patna in Northeast India.

In light of COVID-19 and the annual monsoon rains that devastate the city, this blog highlights the efficacy of a women-led interface between communities and local governments in initiating basic service delivery and promoting participatory urban governance.

Where is the infrastructure?

Residents of Nehru Nagar and Mubarakpur tell similar stories. Faced with dangers of flooding, in the late 1900s they were moved from other areas in Patna and allocated land. 

While Nehru Nagar is in the centre of the city, the map below shows the spatial segregation of the recently urbanised Mubarakpur, which lies outside the Patna Municipal Corporation and is administered by a smaller municipality.

Factors driving informality

  • Lack of data: the data gap stems from limited resourcescapacities and government interest. At the macro level in particular, it prevents policy being formulated and implemented in a participatory manner.

Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) have limited information on demographics, ward boundaries and quality of service provision.

  • Inadequate service delivery: These settlements have seen little change despite at least five major urban development programmes in Patna. Service delivery is lacking despite the City Development Plan (2010-30) recognising Nehru Nagar as a notified slum, namely one that is legally recognised by the government.

The tables below highlight the inadequacies in basic infrastructural service, using waste collection and water supply across Nehru Nagar and Mubarakpur as examples.

Waste collectionDoor-to-door collectionCommunity dustbinSingle collection point in settlementNo fixed point/collection system
Nehru Nagar69%0%31%0%

This recognition can provide a degree of tenure security. Furthermore, many policies (including the Bihar State Slum Policy, 2011) advocate for delinking tenure from service provisioning, suggesting that the informal status of settlements may not be a hindrance. Without government data indicating where inadequacies are, can such schemes be implemented at all? 

Water supplyPiped water collectionTubewells and handpumpsCommunity taps
Nehru Nagar58%24%18%
  • Shifting government responsibilities: Functions of elected ULBs are often transferred or shared with state, parastatal and private agencies. This reduces accountability and renders communication between departments and communities ineffective.

The poor management of floods in 2019 exemplified this. The city’s mayor admitted that the drainage and sewerage map had been missing since 2017.

Two images showing the flooded city of Patna in 2019 (Photo: copyright SEWA Bharat)

Women driving change

Key to SEWA’s mobilisation strategy is training women grassroots leaders (agevans) and developing women-led collectives.

Gradually, women identified common issues and collectively bargained for improved service delivery. Government officials and men in the community were surprised to see women huddle together to discuss and prioritise development issues for their neighbourhoods. The women reclaimed community spaces, gathering in temples, parks and community halls. 

Agevans also collected data that addressed gaps in state capacity and ensured coverage of schemes like the Swacch Bharat Mission: India’s flagship programme focusing on toilet provisioning, and improved solid waste management.

The voluntary aspect of their work strengthens ties with communities and elected representatives. Their support widened the reach of the government’s COVID-19 relief measures, including awareness and ration delivery.

Such collective action emphasises the methods that empower communities and reinforce state accountability.

Community-led initiatives bring success

SEWA’s training familiarised residents with the appropriate government agencies for service provision and maintenance. Lacking a drainage system and well-paved roads, Mubarakpur floods heavily every year with 2019 being particularly devastating. Areas remained inaccessible for weeks.

State of Mubarakpur after rain-induced flooding in 2019 (Photo: copyright SEWA Bharat)

Empowered with the right knowledge, residents approached the agency responsible for dealing with water logging of roads and homes.

Oral forms of grievance redressal are now supplemented with tools like community-endorsed letters and WhatsApp groups, enhancing accountability and follow-ups. Women leaders continued to request meetings and utilise newer means of communication– and their efforts paid off resulting in the construction of critical infrastructure, including a paved road and a drainage network.

This work helped nurture the relationship between community and government. Local leaders committed their funds to support further infrastructure projects.

In Mubarakpur, the collective work of the agevans led to a mobile toilet being installed to supplement overburdened community toilets and minimise open defecation. In Nehru Nagar, women reported inadequate water connections and poor water quality. They helped authorities identify leaking pipelines and monitor the repair work.

They also suggested locations for installing water tanks based on their local knowledge of accessible spaces in the dense settlement.

But well-intentioned schemes cannot be implemented unless local data is available – in Mubarakpur, SBM, had seen low take up. With the support of local women leaders and co-operation of the ward councillor, over 150 households applied for individual toilets.

Weak tenure security creates a fear of eviction. SEWA’s training emphasised on perceived tenure security. For some, this meant paying property tax to strengthen ownership claims. Others registered for electricity connections that serve as address proofs. Some ensured that social security documents were linked to current addresses.  

Promoting citizen participation through localisation

SEWA’s work in small cities like Patna reveals deep problems with development trajectories and management mechanisms.

These cities need a dedicated approach to strengthening local governments using provisions available under India’s 74th Constitutional Amendment. This calls urgently for a framework that promotes citizen’s participation in building cities.

Women in Patna’s Nehru Nagar and Mubarakpur have shown how community-led action is paramount in identifying gaps in service delivery and in ensuring infrastructure provision. This community-led action is mirrored by greater willingness from local state actors.

Hence, in cities where the policy paradigm is weak, local politics and negotiations dominate. Such decentralised and localised modes of intervention create sustainable links between communities and governments and emerge as powerful tools in realising citizen’s rights and local political consciousness.

This article was originally published on the IIED blogsite.
Cover image by Gyan Shahane on Unsplash.
Climate chaos batters global insurance industry

Climate chaos batters global insurance industry

By Kieran Cooke

The climate crisis is exacting a rising price from the worldwide insurance industry, a relief and development agency says.

LONDON, 11 January, 2021 – The economic cost of the climate crisis keeps on rising, as the world’s insurance industry is now acutely aware. As the world digests the news that 2020 was the joint hottest year on record, two reports attempt to assess how many billions of dollars are being lost as a result of an ever-warming planet.

Christian Aid, the UK and Ireland-based charity, lists what it considers to be the 15 most serious climate-related disasters in 2020, and seeks to quantify them in financial terms.

“Covid-19 may have dominated the news agenda in 2020, but for many people the ongoing climate crisis compounded that into an even bigger danger to their lives and livelihoods”, says Christian Aid.

Six of the ten most costly disasters happened in Asia, many of them associated with an unusually prolonged and wet monsoon season. The charity estimates that floods in China cost US$32 billion, while extended rains in India cost US$10bn. Cyclone Amphan, which in May hit the Bay of Bengal region – one of the world’s most densely populated areas – caused losses valued at US$13bn.

“Covid-19 has an expiry date, climate change does not, and failure to ‘green’ the global economic recovery now will increase costs for society in future”

In Africa, unusually heavy rains and changing wind patterns are considered to have been the main factors behind devastating infestations of locusts, which caused an estimated US$8.5bn of damage to crops in Kenya and other East African countries.

In its latest update on locust breeding and movement patterns, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warns that swarms are likely to continue devastating crops across the Arabian peninsula and in East Africa in the weeks ahead.

Christian Aid says its calculations of financial losses resulting from climate crisis-related events are likely to be an underestimate. “Most of these estimates are based only on insured losses, meaning the true financial costs are likely to be higher”, the report says.

Insurance is a very unequal business: much of the property and economic infrastructure of the developing world is not insured, with the bulk of cover being in the US, Europe and other leading economies.

Australian toll

Swiss Re is one of the world’s biggest insurance groups. Its preliminary estimate of global insurance losses as a result of both what it terms natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2020 amounts to US$83bn, up 40% on the previous year. A large chunk of those losses resulted from claims related to extreme weather events in the US.

“Losses were driven by a record number of severe convective storms (thunderstorms with tornadoes, floods and hail) and wildfires in the US”, says Swiss Re. Wildfires in Australia were another contributing factor.

The group says climate change is likely to exacerbate what it calls secondary peril events, as more humid air and rising temperatures create extreme weather conditions, which in turn will result in more frequent wildfires, storm surges and floods.

“While Covid-19 has an expiry date, climate change does not, and failure to ‘green’ the global economic recovery now will increase costs for society in future”, says Jerome Jean Haegeli, Swiss Re’s chief economist– Climate News Network

This article was originally published on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Iwoelbern, via Wikimedia Commons.
Flash flooding hits Mandalay’s Amarapura township after embankment collapse

Flash flooding hits Mandalay’s Amarapura township after embankment collapse

By Khual Tawna, UCCRTF Country Resilience Officer for Myanmar

More than 4,000 households and about 20,000 residents in Mandalay’s Amarapura township have been hit by flashfloods caused by a river embankment that collapsed on 19 July 2020. Through a coordinated response, the city government and local communities worked together to repair the damage and prevent further flooding of surrounding communities.

Following heavy monsoon rainfall, water from the swelling Ayeyawaddy river created a large sinkhole in its embankment which caused it to fail. The embankment collapse occurred just 15 meters from the Shwe Ge flood gate and sewage pumping station in Mandalay’s Amarapura township. The collapse resulted in a flood that destroyed the roads near the embankment and affected the lowland areas and flooded surrounding villages. About 200 households in the area had to be evacuated.

The Mandalay Regional Government and City Development Committee coordinated the response, which included substantial volunteer support from local communities. Their efforts helped to stem the water flow through the embankment within 24 hours. However, the authorities estimate it would take another month before affected communities can return to their homes. In the meantime, thousands of people have been forced to stay in temporary shelters along the Sagiang-Mandalay and Kan Pat roads.

While the disaster response was swift, the incident highlights the need to integrate climate change considerations into infrastructure planning and design in order to build resilience to extreme weather events. It also shows that public awareness of flood risk during monsoon season is essential for flood risk preparedness at household level.

An aerial view the collapsed embankment near the Shwe Ge flood gate and sewage pumping station caused by flashfoods. / MCDC

UCCRTF is supporting Mandalay to build resilience under Grant 0455-MYA: Mandalay Urban Services Improvement Project.

This article was originally published on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities blog.
Cover photo by Phyo Wai Kyaw/ The Myanmar Times
Overshadowed by COVID: the deadly extreme weather of 2020

Overshadowed by COVID: the deadly extreme weather of 2020

By Chloe Brimicombe, Elliott Sainsbury, Gabrielle Powell, Wilson Chan

The year 2020 will no doubt go down in history for other reasons, but it is also on target to be one of the warmest on record. And as the climate warms, natural hazards will happen more frequently – and be ever more lethal.

We are early career researchers in meteorology, geography and environmental sciences, and each of us focus on a different hazard. We may not have been as in demand as our colleagues in virology departments, but we nonetheless had a particularly interesting and busy year. So while attention was often focused elsewhere, perhaps understandably, here are some of the meteorological extremes recorded in 2020.

Wicked wildfires

The year began with apocalyptic scenes of wildfires in Australia, fuelled by heatwaves. It was an image that would play out time and time again in 2020.

In June, Siberia began to burn on an unprecedented scale, at the same time as record temperatures which climate change had made 600 times more likely.

Aerial photo of a forest fire with tall buildings visible in background through smoke.
A forest fire near the city of Cuiaba, Brazil, August 2020. Rogerio Florentino / EPA

Through July and August, the west coast of the US was ablaze. The worst wildfire season in 70 years again coincided with a heatwave, with Death Valley in California recording America’s highest temperature for at least a century – maybe ever.

By September, the Amazon rainforest and the world’s largest wetland to its south, the Pantanal, were on fire. More than a quarter of those fires happened in forest that had not been disturbed by deforestation.

In September 2019, fires in the Amazon had made worldwide headlines. In 2020 there were actually 66% more fires in that month, but attention was elsewhere.

Savage storms

In November, super typhoon Goni made landfall in the Philippines while at maximum intensity, with sustained wind speeds of 195mph. One of the strongest storms to ever make landfall worldwide, Goni directly affected nearly nearly 70 million people, leading to at least 26 fatalities – a number that would have undoubtedly been higher if not for the evacuation of almost 1 million people.

But it wasn’t just wind that posed serious hazards in the western Pacific in 2020. Tropical storms Linfa and Nangka caused significant flooding across Vietnam, exacerbating the problems caused by an unusually active monsoon. More than 136,000 homes were flooded and more than 100 people died.

In the North Atlantic, 2020 was the busiest hurricane season on record, with 30 named storms and six major hurricanes. The single costliest storm of the season, Hurricane Laura, made landfall in Haiti and Louisiana, killing 77 people and causing more than US$14 billion (£10 billion) in damages.

Two major hurricanes, Eta and Iota, caused significant damage in Honduras and Nicaragua. They made landfall in the region in November, just two weeks and 15 miles apart. This is a humanitarian crisis yet one that has received relatively little attention overseas.

Woman looks away from camera at damaged buildings by the sea.
A woman in Colombia looks out at the destruction caused by Hurricane Iota. Mauricio Duenas Castaneda / EPA

Frightening floods

The world’s deadliest flooding this year took place in east Africa in March through May. At least 430 lives were lost and an estimated 116,000 people were displaced in Kenya alone. The previous dry season was particularly wet, and was followed by above average rainfall during the “long rains” of March-May, meaning the vast Lake Victoria had twice its normal rainfall.

Map showing huge areas of central and east Africa under flood alerts.
Africa on May 5 and 6, 2020: areas experiencing flood watch (red), warning (orange), or advisory (green) conditions. NASA / Margaret T. Glasscoe (JPL)

Though the rainfall was predicted in advancelocust outbreaks and COVID meant vulnerable people were already less able to handle the floods and secondary hazards such as widespread landslides and a cholera outbreak. The wet conditions were also ideal for further breeding of desert locusts. When it rains, it truly does pour.

Devastating droughts

Water crises caused by droughts and resource mismanagement were ranked as the fifth highest risk in terms of impact in the 2020 Global Risks Report – greater than infectious diseases and unemployment.

The severe drought across central and western US is the first billion-dollar drought of 2020, contributing to a record-breaking 16 weather and climate disasters with USD$1 billion or more in damages in the US in 2020 alone.

Conditions during 2020 represented the latest phase of a “mega-drought” over the past 20 years. By the peak in summer, a third of the US was in a moderate drought and much of the west was under severe to extreme drought. This coincided with abnormally hot summer temperatures and over 2 million acres of land burned nationwide, further enhancing drought conditions in a vicious cycle.

Map of the US showing much of the country in drought conditions.
Drought conditions across the lower 48 states, on August 11 2020. NASA

The Rio Grande river, a major source of water supply for southwest states, would have completely ceased to flow had water providers not decided to pause existing water diversion schemes. Other impacts included crop damage from one in 50 year dry soil moisture conditions and a rise in dust storms  reminiscent of the 1930s Dust Bowl.

A dried-out river bed.
What’s left of the Rio Grande forms much of the US-Mexico border. Piotr Kalinowski Photos / shutterstock

The latest seasonal outlooks estimate that drought conditions may extend westwards and persist into 2021, complicating the recovery from a difficult year.

Horrendous heatwaves

In May, while a large cyclone struck Bangladesh and eastern India, the north of India experienced temperatures of up to 47℃. This also delayed the onset of the monsoon, impacting farming.

The northern hemisphere summer saw repeated heatwaves, culminating in mid-August. Japan, for instance, had record-breaking temperatures with cities across the country having multiple days at 40°C. In one week, more than 12,000 people were admitted to hospital with heat-related illnesses. Even the UK’s heatwave, accompanied by tropical nights, caused 1,700 excess deaths.

A roadside thermometer shows 42°C
An all too familiar sight. Juan Carlos Caval / EPA

At the start of the summer season in Australia, temperature records have already been broken. It seems the year will go out on an extreme high.

2020 was alarming, unforgettable and traumatic – and not only because of COVID-19. Lethal natural hazards are increasing in frequency under our changing climate, and 2020 is a testament to that.

This article was published on The Conversation.