Category: Development

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.
Climate crisis: how museums could inspire radical action

Climate crisis: how museums could inspire radical action

By Colin Sterling and Rodney Harrison

When Victorian tea-merchant Frederick Horniman was looking to build a new home for his extensive collection of natural and cultural artefacts, his own back garden offered the perfect spot. Situated on one of the highest points in London, Surrey Mount – the Horniman family home – enjoyed commanding views across the city. The surrounding area of Forest Hill was a thriving suburb, and Horniman sought to “bring the world” to this growing community by making his collection accessible to everyone.

Architect Charles Harrison Townsend was commissioned to design the new museum, which opened in 1901. Soon afterwards, Horniman presented the museum and 15 acres of gardens to the London County Council as a gift in perpetuity for the “recreation, instruction and enjoyment” of the people of London.

Like many museums around the world, the Horniman was forced to close temporarily in March 2020 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The gardens remained open throughout lockdown, taking on a vital role for the local community during this period of forced isolation. The sloping lawn where Surrey Mount once stood became an impromptu gathering place to watch the sun set across the city’s now empty skyscrapers.

It was around this time that the museum was added to a crowd-sourced map of statues, monuments, named buildings and streets to “shine a light on the continued adoration of colonial icons and symbols”. Although known as a philanthropist and social reformer in Britain, Horniman’s wealth, like that of many of the founder’s of Britain’s museums, was acquired through colonial exploitation – in his case, the tea trade.

As the museum’s Chief Executive Nick Merriman noted in an article written in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, tea growing was “labour intensive, poorly compensated and, in many cases, used indentured or forced labour”. Similarly, its collections include objects such as a number of Benin Bronzes, which were obtained through colonial violence.

People wander through a grand museum exhibit.
The Horniman Museum’s World Gallery. © Andrew Lee

In many ways this is a familiar story. The emergence of the public museum in the 18th and 19th centuries cannot be disentangled from painful histories of colonial subjugation and exploitation. While Horniman’s desire to bring the world to south London may have been enacted in a spirit of education and social “improvement”, the very idea of building a museum to collect, order and display the world speaks to a broader mindset of western dominion over other cultures – and nature.

As many scholars have shown, hierarchical notions of race and culture developed and perpetuated by museums underpinned violent practices around the globe and continue to do so today. They also supported a vision of European exceptionalism that helped to justify a harmful relationship with the natural world, encouraging ideals of progress and exploitative understandings of nature as a resource.

This attitude has been challenged repeatedly as part of anti-racist, anti-colonial and pro-environmental institutional reform. Now, in the shadow of a climate and ecological emergency that is impacting on all areas of social, political and economic life, the very purpose of museums is again being called into question.

Reimagining museums

While the Horniman may be an archetypal museum in many respects, it also contains a few surprises. Alongside galleries dedicated to natural history, anthropology and musical instruments, visitors can explore a butterfly house, a small animal park, and an aquarium that is home to an innovative research project exploring coral reef reproduction.

This unusual combination of natural and cultural collections, outdoor spaces and zoological research was highlighted in the museum’s climate and ecology manifesto, published in January 2020. As well as plans to minimise waste, reduce pollution and invest in environmental research, the manifesto calls for a suite of changes related to the collections, the site and the organisation. It makes clear that while museums may be “institutions of the long term”, they have a “moral and ethical imperative to act now” in the fight against global warming.

A man with a wheelbarrow in a colourful garden.
The sunken garden at the Horniman Museum, south east London. Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images

From Anchorage to Sydney, this call to action has resonated across the sector in recent years. While the scale and urgency of climate change can often seem overwhelming, museums are beginning to recognise that they have a crucial role to play in shaping and supporting society’s response to this crisis. Just as the Horniman gardens became a restorative meeting space during lockdown, the purpose of museums more broadly is ripe for reimagining in the era of climate change.

But what might this look like? Earlier in 2020 we launched an international design and ideas competition to gather responses to this question. Over 250 submissions were received from 48 countries, with proposals from architects, designers, activists, artists, student groups, academics, indigenous communities and those already working in museums globally.

The brief was purposefully expansive: against the backdrop of a rapidly changing environment, what would it mean for museums to actively shape a more just and sustainable future for all?

Practical solutions and speculative concepts were equally welcome. While some responded with proposals to create more sustainable museum buildings, or develop new exhibitions on climate change, others sought to redefine the very foundations of museological thinking and practice. The eight finalists are currently developing their ideas for an exhibition at Glasgow Science Centre ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference COP26, which will take place in Glasgow in November 2021.

A historical reckoning

For some museums, looking to the future in this way will mean confronting their own complicity in many of the forces that have brought the planet to the brink of ecological collapse.

The term museum now embraces a dizzying variety of buildings, projects, ideas and experiences. But their roots can be traced to the princely palaces and cabinets of curiosity of the 17th century – spaces in which powerful individuals assembled and displayed their most notable possessions.

In Britain, Sir Hans Sloane’s collection – one of the largest in the country when he died in 1753 – included “curiosities” and natural specimens from North and South America, the East Indies and the West Indies. Sloane – who was born in Ireland in 1660 and found fame as a physician to the aristocracy – acquired the wealth to build his collection from enslaved labour on Jamaican sugar plantations. Sloane’s collection provided the foundation for the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, a legacy that both institutions are now beginning to grapple with.

Most recently, in August 2020, the British Museum announced that it had moved a bust of Sloane to a new display case, where it could be reinterpreted alongside artefacts related to the British empire. While many museums are increasingly willing to acknowledge the many ways in which their own histories are bound up with ongoing debates around race and inequality, drawing threads between these injustices and the problem of climate change has yet to become common. Instead, it regularly falls to outside voices to make these connections clear.

Observers behind a fence look at artwork of white faces and arms in foreground.
BP or not BP?’s ‘Monument’, installed at the British Museum overnight during their occupation of the museum on February 9 2020. © Rodney Harrison, Author provided

The work of activist group BP or Not BP? is a case in point here. Known for their highly theatrical protests, BP or Not BP? occupied the British Museum for three days in February, taking over galleries and creating a new sculptural artwork in the museum’s Great Court, partially supported by staff and at least one member of the museum’s board. They sought to shine a spotlight on the impact of BP around the world, drawing attention to the different ways in which “the museum’s own history and that of its sponsor were born out of colonialism and empire”.

Moving statues and reinterpreting collections can only go so far in this respect. As BP or Not BP? argue, reimagining what a “truly enlightened, responsible and engaged British Museum could look like” will require radical, systemic change.

Architect John Zhang’s proposal for our competition – titled The British Museum of Decolonized Nature – offers one vision of what such change might look like. With the museum emptied of its colonial artefacts, Zhang imagines nature taking over. This is not a dystopian wasteland, but a purposefully programmed set of experiences where “we may see our relationship with nature anew”.

Taking up the challenge of what it would mean to transform existing museums into spaces of social and climate justice, Zhang proposes turning the British Museum’s Great Court into an open forum for public debate on climate action. While such ideas may seem fantastical, BP or Not BP?’s intervention shows how this work is, in many senses, already underway.

An overgrown building.
The British Museum of Decolonized Nature. © John Zhang, Author provided

Collecting worlds, making futures

While not all museums are burdened by the same colonial roots as the British Museum, the central premise of amassing natural and cultural objects to tell a particular story has shaped the way societies globally now understand their place in the world. In many instances, this has meant supporting, justifying and perpetuating certain ways of living that may have disastrous consequences for the environment.

In the early 20th century, the American Museum of Natural History sponsored a number of excursions to Africa to capture and kill animals for a series of new dioramas. The creatures – including lions, giraffes, elephants and gorillas – were stuffed and mounted to encourage their preservation “in the wild”. This led to the establishment of one of the first protected areas in Africa, Albert National Park in the eastern Congo, named after the King of Belgium. The park, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was renamed Virunga in 1969.

As recent studies have shown, such protected areas can create an unhelpful divide between local communities and the lands they inhabit. Indigenous voices and alternative systems of land management are often marginalised in this approach, which extends the frozen world of the museum diorama to living ecosystems. Both are symptomatic of a modern attitude towards the environment that represents a significant obstacle to meaningful climate action.

In their response to the competition brief, experimental spatial practice Design Earth concocted a playful yet provocative antidote to this situation – a magical realist story accompanied by speculative design drawings.

“Elephant in the Room” asks what would happen if one of the creatures shot by celebrated “conservationist” Teddy Roosevelt and subsequently mounted in the Hall of African Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History came to life and demanded justice. As the elephant rampages through the museum and out into the streets of New York, its belly “echoes with resonant demands to decolonise the museum” and “divest from carbon industries”. The museum itself becomes an architectural taxidermy, with only its facade remaining.

A colourful drawing of a building with elephant in foreground.
Elephant in the Room. © Design Earth, Author provided

This striking image upends the familiar hierarchies of the museum. Stasis and order give way to chaos – but of a regenerative kind – with the elephant standing in for the Earth itself. The idea that humans exercise any kind of “mastery” over nature was always an illusion. Museums – “those symbols of elitism and staid immobility” as anthropologist James Clifford once put it – have helped to reinforce this view of the world for too long.

Reimagining museums as pillars in the fight against climate change means more than just paying lip service to issues of sustainability, recycling and carbon emissions (important as these are). It means a historical reckoning with the role museums have played in supporting the main drivers of climate breakdown – not least colonialism, capitalism (at least as we currently know it), and industrial modernity.

Climate action from this perspective is wrapped up with calls for social justice and racial equality. Museums have emerged as a key battleground in these wider debates, and it is crucial that we begin to connect the dots between the intersecting legacies of colonialism and climate change.

Museums and climate action

Climate action typically refers to a suite of activities that either look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or enhance the way societies globally can adapt to the worst effects of climate change.

The 2015 Paris Agreement aims to ensure global average temperatures do not rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Current policies put the world on track for warming of around 3°C. As the journalist David Wallace-Wells writes in his searing book The Uninhabitable Earth, such a catastrophic rise would no doubt “shape everything we do on the planet, from agriculture to human migration to business and mental health”.

Stuffed songbirds behind glass in a museum display.
Stuffed songbirds. Bruno Martins/UnsplashCC BY-SA

While museums around the world have implemented programmes of climate change education and pushed for more environmentally friendly practices, far less attention has been paid to building resilience or adapting to a rapidly changing climate. This echoes broader work across the heritage sector. As a recent report on climate action from the International Council on Monuments and Sites highlights, questions of adaptation and resilience in heritage tend to focus on learning from the past to guide contemporary planning.

The profound challenge of the climate emergency forces us to think more radically about what museums could and should be. What would a museum dedicated to meaningful climate action look like? How would it operate? Who would it serve, and what stories would it tell?

Despite a general claim to be working in the interests of “future generations”, museums and the heritage sector more broadly rarely consider the future in specific terms. Instead, present conditions and attitudes are simply projected into the future, as if change is something to be fought against rather than embraced. As a recent research project led by one of us concluded, there is an urgent need for more speculative and creative thinking in the field to confront the inevitable social and environmental transformations climate change will bring.

This was very much in the back of our minds when we were developing the competition. Alongside new initiatives such as the New York City based Climate Museum and Climate Museum UK, which aim to address the climate crisis directly, we hoped the brief might encourage applicants to consider climate resilience and adaptation in broader terms, or ask how a changing climate might prompt new ways of living with the Earth. In short, we invited submissions that might consider not only how we survive, but how we might thrive in the climate change era.

Living well in a warming world

Several of the proposals did just that. Weathering With Us, submitted by Singapore-based architects Isabella Ong and Tan Wen Jun, imagines a new kind of contemplative museum space where climate action is materialised in the very structure and experience of the building.

Their dreamlike concept – a huge floating barge situated where the equator intersects with the prime meridian at 0’ latitude and 0’ longitude – takes the form of a mandala sand sculpture made of olivine, a material which naturally pulls carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and redeposits it as carbon in the skeletons of marine creatures and shells in the ocean.

Our collective understanding of climate change is often represented by a doomsday clock. The museum put forward by Weathering With Us asks what would happen if “we have a shared emblem that functions not as a harbinger of doom, but of healing?”

Abstract grey circle with lines.
Weathering With Us. © Isabella Ong and Tan Wen Jun, Author provided

If the monumental scale of Weathering With Us shows how the design of new museum buildings might rise to the challenge of climate action, other proposals gestured towards the practical work that museums perform in the world. In particular, a key theme running through many submissions was the possibility for museums to support new ways of living with and relating to the Earth.

Estimates on the number of museums in the world range from 55,000 to 95,000. The sheer diversity of the field is a reminder both of the malleability of the term “museum”, and of the globalised reach of an idea that has its roots in European colonialism and capitalist exploitation.

Existances – a project developed by a group of Brazilian academics and museum workers – simultaneously challenges these roots and asks “how we might live well” in the Anthropocene. Highlighting the power of collective knowledge in the fight against climate change, Existances (a neologism produced by bringing together the words “existence” and “resistance”) imagines a network of micro-museums embedded in and responding to the diverse cosmologies of Afro-Brasilian, Amerindian and rural communities. While acknowledging the severity of the climate emergency for such communities, this is a project of hope – one that challenges us to think and act together to imagine alternative ways of being in the world.

Drawing of mountain landscape with geodesic dome museum.
Existances. © Jairza Fernandes Rocha da Silva, Luciana Menezes de Carvalho, Nayhara J. A. Pereira Thiers Vieira, João Francisco Vitório Rodrigues, Natalino Neves da Silva & Walter Francisco Figueiredo Lowande, Author provided

Without denying the scale of this task, a few key themes emerged in response to the competition that suggest what shape this reorientation might take.

The first relates to breaking down boundaries and moving away from authoritarian values of order and control. In an inevitably transforming future world, museums must accept and embrace the creative possibilities of uncertainty and change rather than work against these forces.

This will also mean reimagining the familiar structure of museums. Instead of centralised spaces and buildings, many of the proposals submitted to the competition called for non-hierarchical “networks” enabling a decentralised approach to collecting, education and research.

This would require a fundamental rethink of the way museums are typically governed – the third and perhaps most important theme to emerge across the competition entries. Certain crises demand new forms of decision making where experts and lay people can come together to imagine new futures.

It’s clear that 2020 has been a tumultuous year for museums. The pandemic has forced many around the world to close, and each week brings news of further staff redundancies. In the UK, museums have been drawn into a manufactured culture war with threats from the government that those institutions which remove statues or other contested objects from display risk losing their public funding. On top of all this, a battle has raged within the international museums sector over what the term “museum” even means. To say this is a sector in flux would be an understatement.

Museums will not solve the complex problem of climate change, but they might set a powerful example for how this work can unfold across society over the coming years. The ideas generated in response to our competition show how vibrant, collective and transformative museums could be. The climate crisis brings with it a sense of inevitable change, of things unravelling, but how society responds to this change is far from certain. An expanded notion of climate action is required, one that focuses on environmental justice, racial, social and economic inequalities and – perhaps most radically – new forms of living with the Earth.

As the Horniman proves, in dealing with complex legacies and ongoing injustices, museums have already become testing grounds for localised action on a broad range of social, political and economic issues. The position they take with regards to climate action could resonate far beyond the field.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover image by Deanna J on Unsplash.
Africa’s resistance grows as climate crisis worsens

Africa’s resistance grows as climate crisis worsens

By Kieran Cooke

Battered by storms and droughts during a tough 2019, Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis left no room for passivity.

Attempting to come to any general conclusions on the state of a vast, varied and complex continent may be a tricky business, but Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis shows it rejects any idea of settling for victimhood.

A new report, State of the Climate in Africa 2019, published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), makes that clear.

It reaches some grim conclusions. Increased temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather are threatening human health and safety across the continent, says the report.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest and contributing to food insecurity, population displacement and stress on water resources”, says Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general.

“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event”, he says. “The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Killer cyclone

Drought caused considerable damage in 2019, particularly across southern Africa. Much of East Africa also suffered drought but then, late in the year, there was torrential rain and serious flooding and landslides in the region.

The trend, says the report, is for continuing increases in temperature: 2019 was among the three warmest years ever recorded in Africa. The WMO predicts that rainfall is likely to decrease over northern and southern regions but increase over the Sahel.

There are also likely to be more weather-related extreme events. In March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the coast of Mozambique and went on to devastate large areas of Malawi, Zimbabwe and surrounding countries.

Described as the most destructive cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, Idai killed hundreds of people and displaced several hundred thousand.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest”

Sea levels are rising well above the global average in many parts of Africa, the report says. Coastal degradation and erosion is a major challenge, particularly in West Africa. More than 50% of the coastlines in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo are eroding – a trend likely to continue in future years.

The knock-on effects of these changes in climate are considerable. Approximately 60% of the total population of Africa is dependent on agriculture for a living.

Heat and drought, plus flood damage in some areas, are likely to reduce crop productivity. Changes in climate are also leading to pest outbreaks.

In what it describes as the worst case climate change scenario, the report says crop yields could drop by 13% by mid-century across West and Central Africa, 11% in North Africa and 8% in the eastern and southern regions of the continent. Rice and wheat crops would be particularly badly affected.

Combatting the crisis

Increased heat and continually changing rainfall patterns are also likely to lead to the spread of disease – and a fall-off in economic production in many countries.

But the report does point to some positive changes, showing Africa’s resistance to the crisis. Though the continent is responsible for only a small percentage of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, many countries in Africa are taking measures aimed at tackling climate change.

Solar power is becoming more widespread, with several large-scale projects planned. Early warning systems monitoring the approach of such cataclysmic events as Cyclone Idai are being installed across the continent.
Farm incomes in many areas are increasing, due to the application of more efficient cultivation methods, such as micro-irrigation. But good planning, based on reliable data, is essential, the report says.

“The limited uptake and use of climate information services in development planning and practice in Africa is due in part to the paucity of reliable and timely climate information”, says Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa– Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Georgina Smith/CIAT (public domain), via Climate Visuals
UCCRTF city of Sialkot amongst those hit by new “smart lockdown strategy” to fight COVID-19

UCCRTF city of Sialkot amongst those hit by new “smart lockdown strategy” to fight COVID-19

By Tassadaq Shah

COVID-19 cases have been rapidly increasing in Pakistani cities in recent weeks. The rate of infection became so high that, on June 13th, Prime Minister, Imran Khan, announced that a “smart lockdown” strategy would be imposed on certain hot spots across the country.

Khan emphasized that the country’s precarious economic situation, meant that a nationwide lockdown was impossible. The smart lockdown strategy aims to curb the spread of the coronavirus and helps to balance the lives of citizens with their livelihoods. The strategy is designed to contain the disease in high risk areas which are reporting large numbers of coronavirus cases negating the need for countrywide restrictions.

The National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) undertook a comprehensive review of potential COVID-19 clusters and, on June 15, identified 20 cities in the country that were “high risk areas”, which are reporting large numbers of COVID-19 cases. These areas were then targeted for limited locality-based. The cities that were identified as having a “likely increase in speed of infection” required restrictive measures for containment of COVID-19. A testing, tracing and quarantining (TTQ) strategy is also being employed as part of the containment strategy.

Starting from June 16, smart lockdowns were implemented through provincially issued orders and regulations. The province of Punjab has announced that it has decided to impose a lockdown in areas with potential COVID-19 hotspots in seven cities of the province namely, the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Gujranwala, the UCCRTF city of Sialkot.

The following day, 904 further lockdowns were imposed in Punjab; 26 in Sindh; 572 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; 29 in Azad Kashmir; 10 in Islamabad; and 5 in Gilgit-Baltistan. Around the country, authorities are attempting to ensure compliance with health guidelines, particularly in workplaces and in industrial sector and transport markets and shops.

Although the absolute impact of the improved strategy is not known, there are early signs of improvement in some parts of the country. For instance, in Islamabad 771 cases of coronavirus were reported on June 1st, a number that has since fallen to 25 cases as of the 5th of September 2020. After reporting its first cases on February 26, Pakistan has so far officially registered nearly 213,470 confirmed cases and 4,395 deaths. Of those infected, more than 100,802 have recovered.

This article was originally posted on ADB’s Livable Cities blogsite.
Cover photo from
How National Development Banks can drive climate-smart solutions in cities during COVID-19 and beyond

How National Development Banks can drive climate-smart solutions in cities during COVID-19 and beyond

By Priscilla Negreiros

No economy can achieve resilient and climate-smart economic growth without empowered cities. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of cities is greater than ever. Urban areas will be severely impacted by the current crisis, with drastic economic consequences in the medium to long term in addition to the significant human and social losses. Cities have a higher risk of spreading diseases due to high-density population. They also serve as travel hubs, increasing transmission rates and are home for many vulnerable populations, which – particularly in developing countries – often live in informal settlements with little or no access to sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Despite this, cities cannot lose momentum in addressing the global threat of climate change, which could have an even greater impact on the economy in the long term. Before COVID-19, cities were already in need of more investment to face the climate emergency, and now they are losing substantial revenues from locally generated sources and are needing to divert funds elsewhere. Cities need urgent access to credit, and National Development Banks (NDBs) can help.

NDBs are an important development tool during economic crises. Historically, NDBs were created to fund post-war reconstruction in Europe (e.g. KfW in Germany) or to boost industrialization in developing economies (e.g. BNDES in Brazil). They all share the same principle of supporting national governments to counteract the pro-cyclical nature of the private financial system. Throughout the 2007/08 economic crisis, NDBs played a vital role when commercial bankers rationed credit and reduced global investments.

Although NDBs vary in size, performance, and objectives, they often have a unique capacity to reach sectors not sufficiently funded by private financial institutions, such as green infrastructure, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. This makes them a relevant actor in the global development agenda. Taking into account the increasingly central role of cities as drivers of economic growth and as part of the global response to climate change, NDBs should substantially increase their investment in projects led by cities.

According to the recent think piece published by the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance about the role of NDBs in city-level climate finance, NDBs have potential to unlock needed investment into cities as they: (1) have a generally singular domestic focus with a deep understanding of national and regional investment challenges and opportunities; (2) can utilize public and private funding sources, providing state guarantees to cheaper access to markets; (3) have the advantage of financing in local currency; (4) can pool different types of funding in blended finance structures and catalyze private sector investment.

So, why are NDBs not doing more to address cities’ needs?

NDBs are not a viable option for every city. Even estimating the number of NDBs is a difficult endeavour. Yet, most of the approximately 250 existing NDBs worldwide are found in middle-income countries (60%), while only 8% are located in low-income countries, and around 30% in high-income countries. Likewise, most NDBs are small, except for the ones in China, Germany, Brazil, India, and South Africa, which hold approximately three-fifths of the USD 5 trillion in assets estimated as being held by NDBs (considerably more than the just under USD 1 trillion held by Multilateral Development Banks [MDBs).

The structure of an NDB can also vary greatly. Some are fully owned by national governments, while others are semi-private; some have wide mandates, while some are specialized in one sector; and some NDBs are more or less independent from government-controlled boards. All of these factors influence how NDBs establish their mandates, most not having clear programs to promote and identify climate-resilient infrastructure projects, let alone urban-related ones. Also, legal constraints and political disputes might disengage municipal governments from using these funding sources.

Yet, there are good reasons to think that NDBs should provide critical support to cities. For that to happen, some actions must be taken to increase the role of NDBs in urban-resilient and climate-smart investment.

NDBs can start by addressing climate-related investments in their mandates and/or strategies, including for climate-smart urban infrastructure. Reviewing mandates and setting climate and resilient urban targets will not necessarily generate an instantaneous change, but it will certainly support the translation of plans into concrete project pipelines. National governments must make sure the regulatory framework conditions are in place to allow subnational entities to access NDBs. The collaboration between NDBs and their relevant national and local governments is the key to success.

Also, NDBs must strengthen their technical capacity to assist cities in structuring projects by developing and deploying product offerings that suit cities’ needs, such as project preparation facilities and risk mitigation mechanisms. Most cities lack the required capacity to manage projects, lead infrastructure procurement, and identify climate finance instruments. Although there are many urgent projects in the pipeline, particularly in adaptation measures, city-level projects are commonly identified as “non-bankable” by investors.

Cities must have access to project preparation facilities that can assist in building feasibility studies and scaling the needed finance. By investing in project preparation assistance and risk mitigation instruments, NDBs can be an important partner for increasing the number of bankable projects, which would help to respond to the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Another solution: NDBs should increase their access to concessional development finance by seeking accreditation and support from Multilateral Development Banks. This would allow NDBs to provide cities with the needed grants for technical assistance in project preparation and guarantees, and to lend at concessional rates and for longer durations.

Cities will face one of the biggest challenges of the century in the coming months and years: they will have to repair their economies while fighting for the health of their people and climate. While all actors in this equation will be essential, NDBs will have a large role to play as key city-level support.

The think piece on “Enhancing the Role of National Development Banks in Supporting Climate-Smart Urban Infrastructure” released by the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance can be read here.

Cover photo by Barbara Buchner
New guidance document will help LAC-based project developers prepare bankable NbS projects

New guidance document will help LAC-based project developers prepare bankable NbS projects

A fresh-off-the-press IDB technical guidance document will help LAC-based project developers prepare bankable Nature-based Solutions (NbS) projects that provide a substitute, compliment or safeguard to conventional ‘gray’ infrastructure projects.

Nature based Solutions (NbS) can play a central role in meeting the rising demand for infrastructure, and strengthening the resilience of infrastructure assets. They offer a cost-effective approach to enhance resilience, while providing a range of social and environmental benefits (e.g. recreational opportunities, habitat for biodiversity). In this context, NbS refer to activities associated with the protection, management, enhancement, and restoration of nature and implemented to deliver climate resilient infrastructure. This could refer to re-forestation activities for erosion control, coral reef restoration for coastal protection, and green space creation for stormwater runoff control in densely populated urban areas.

There is a high awareness of the benefits and services that NbS can provide, yet significantly less implementation within the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) context. Their potential remains largely untapped due to a number of barriers that prevent mainstreaming NbS into project development. Some of these barriers are upstream, for example, the lack of NbS incorporation into infrastructure policy and planning documents, or a lack of financial instruments to finance NbS. Other barriers are further downstream: these include, the challenges of defining the business case and accessing finance and funding, and the lack of adequate data, methods, and tools to incorporate NbS into project development.

In tackling some of these downstream challenges, the IDB, in collaboration with Acclimatise, have released a 12-step technical guidance document to integrate NbS into project development. The Guidance is targeted to planners, engineers, architects, contractors and operators interested in preparing bankable climate resilient projects that incorporate NbS either as a substitute, complement or safeguard to conventional infrastructure projects.

How was the guidance developed?

Figure 1: The twelve step process, and two cross-cutting themes, for integrating NbS into project development

In September 2019, the IDB convened a workshop with a range of LAC-based project developers and international experts with experience in NbS implementation (e.g. Deltares, World Bank, World Resources Institute, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). As LAC as a whole is early stages of NbS implementation, the IDB considered it opportune to leverage lessons learned from other parts of the world where NbS is more mainstream in project development, for example the Netherlands. At the workshop, the NbS experts iterated a preliminary technical guidance document that was drafted based on a review of LAC and international literature. The experts iterated the early stage draft and helped answer important questions such as ‘is this how it works in practice?’ ‘what steps or processes still need to be incorporated in this document?’, ‘what are the important LAC-specific elements that must be included?’.

The NbS experts shared their experiences and insights which were incorporated in the document, both at the workshop and throughout an extensive review in the months after.  The end product is the result of a participatory process incorporating multiple iterations with field experts, and should be considered a reference (or “go-to”) document for project developers interested in developing NbS projects in LAC, and globally.

The Technical Guidance Document is available in English and in Spanish and can be accessed here.

Cover photo by Michael Benz on Unsplash.
GEF supports new initiative to boost investment in nature-based infrastructure for climate adaptation

GEF supports new initiative to boost investment in nature-based infrastructure for climate adaptation

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has approved a $2 million grant for a new venture in partnership with the MAVA Foundation, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), which aims to increase investment in nature-based infrastructure that can help cities and countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The new global initiative, supported by the GEF-managed Special Climate Change Fund, will use financial modelling and climate change projections to establish the business case for investing in nature and make it easier for investors and government officials to assign a value to and consider nature-based solutions when making infrastructure spending decisions.

The project will equip decision-makers with comprehensive, system-wide valuations of natural assets, reflecting capital and operating costs as well as co-benefits from carbon sequestration, air purification, protection against water scarcity, and climate change adaptation, plus cost comparisons with grey infrastructure alternatives.

This is important as many decision-makers currently lack the tools to directly compare green or hybrid infrastructure solutions with alternatives, for instance when making decisions about flood control, food security, coastal protection, water conservation and wastewater treatment. Such infrastructure planning and spending decisions will be critically important in the coming years as countries plan their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and work toward more ambitious climate change, biodiversity, and other goals and frameworks.

“We are proud to support this venture, which will address the critical evidence gap that investors and project developers currently face as they evaluate whether to invest in nature and nature-based infrastructure,” said GEF CEO and Chairperson Naoko Ishii. “Making this information more readily available will be a game changer for those making long-term decisions about infrastructure investments for economic recovery and development.”

The MAVA Foundation, a philanthropic organization working to conserve biodiversity for the benefit of people and nature, is partnering with the GEF and has pledged to provide $2 million in co-financing to scale up the impact of the project, which will be implemented by UNIDO and executed by IISD. The project, which will use data from the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, will also include a public online database making information on the valuation and performance of nature-based infrastructure available to a wide variety of project partners and stakeholders.

“Nature is part of the fundamental infrastructure on which thriving societies and economies depend. Despite its regenerative capacity, natural infrastructure – like built infrastructure – needs maintenance and therefore investment. This project will demonstrate that investing in maintaining and restoring our natural capital provides solutions to societal problems – above all to the adaptation to climate change. Most importantly, the training and capacity development offered will scale the project impact far beyond the concrete case examples,” said MAVA Foundation Director General Lynda Mansson.

“Our aim for this project is to consider social, economic, and environmental factors to demonstrate the system-wide case for investing in large-scale nature-based solutions,” said IISD President and CEO Richard Florizone. “Natural ecosystems like forests, mangroves, wetlands, and grasslands provide a range of ‘services’ that can complement and even substitute for built infrastructure. The strong evidence base we build through this unique partnership will help all market participants confidently invest in nature.”

“In line with UNIDO’s mandate to promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development, we actively cooperate with private sector entities to further environmental stewardship approaches. This project will allow us to quantify the positive impact of stewardship activities on ecosystems as well as to demonstrate the cost efficiency of nature-based infrastructure. It will also allow us to highlight the economic value of the positive externalities provided by nature-based infrastructure to our partners in governments and international finance institutions. Thus, the project will have a catalytic impact on UNIDO’s efforts to up-scale public-private partnerships on environmental stewardship as required for a transformational change in climate change adaptation,” said UNIDO Managing Director Stephan Sicars.

The new project is an example of the GEF’s ongoing commitment to help countries and partners make wise investment decisions related to nature-based solutions and climate resilience, and reflects the Special Climate Change Fund’s focus on supporting innovative and impactful adaptation solutions. It will also support the Global Commission on Adaptation’s call to scale up action on nature-based solutions for adaptation.

For more information, please contact:

  • Laura MacInnis, GEF Senior Communications Officer,
  • Zahra Sethna, IISD Director of Communications,
  • Holger Schmid, MAVA Foundation Program Director,
  • Charles Arthur, UNIDO Communications Officer,

This article was posted on ReliefWeb.
Ten ways to support climate change adaptation planning and decision-making

Ten ways to support climate change adaptation planning and decision-making

This brief provides targeted recommendations for co-designing actionable and user-focused climate services. By this, the authors mean processes in which climate researchers and consultants work collaboratively with planners and other practitioners to develop climate information that supports adaptation planning and decision-making. The authors focus specifically on various means to enhance this collaboration.

Thus, this brief addresses subject matters -vocabulary choice, relationship building and political agendas, for example- that may seem far afield from the natural focus of people in research-driven, science careers. This brief aims to give people with climate expertise needed tools to help generate and target science that can inform more effective policies, make efficient use of limited funds, and reduce the vulnerability of people and places to the impacts of climate change.

In brief, the key recommendations provided, are (p. 2-5):

  1. Help practitioners articulate their needs, and challenge predefined solutions;
  2. Thoroughly assess the planning and decision-making contexts;
  3. Discuss output and time horizons early in the process;
  4. Involve facilitators in the co-design process;
  5. Adjust communication to the target audience;
  6. Combine different formats, including visualizations, to present the information;
  7. Align climate services with existing planning tools and processes;
  8. Discuss resolution of data;
  9. Address uncertainty;
  10. Ensure transparency and traceability.

Download the full brief here.

This article was originally posted on PreventionWeb.
Cover photo by Ashden on Climate Visuals.
The state of UCCRTF-supported cities during the pandemic

The state of UCCRTF-supported cities during the pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically changed the shape of daily life in cities around the world. The cities in which the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) operates are no exception.

​Economic activity has slowed considerably during lockdown and the planning and construction of infrastructure projects face delays as municipal governments tackle the immediate health crisis. So, what has life been like inside cities supported by UCCRTF? What lessons might the response to the COVID-19 crisis hold for building resilience to other shocks and stresses such as climate change?

​The city resilience officers of UCCRTF, who have been working on climate change resilience projects in many secondary cities across South and Southeast Asia, share how the pandemic has impacted their cities

Image: Thanh Van, UCCRTF CRO in Vietnam

Summer season has arrived in Viet Nam and temperatures are rising. Reflecting on recent months, Hanoi citizens are very proud of what has been done to combat COVID-19. By the end of April, the Vietnamese Government recorded only 270 confirmed cases, of which 223 have recovered and returned home. Since that time there have been no further deaths, as of June 17th 2020.

The relatively low number compared to neighboring countries is largely due to the swift and effective prevention and control measures that the government put in place since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in January and cases in Hanoi in early March.

Viet Nam suspended entry of all foreigners from 22 March and mandatory health declarations became required at all international borders for Vietnamese nationals arriving from abroad. Authorities also suspended schools and canceled festivals nationwide. The most challenging time for many was the 22 days of lockdown from April 1 to 22. Everyone was asked to stay at home and stop all unessential activities.

People remain worried about the possibility of the virus spreading through the poorer areas of the cities, where living conditions are crowded. In Hue and Hoi An City, most people rely on tourism and other related business activities. They work in restaurants, hotels, tourism services, or small businesses such as street vendors or lottery ticket sellers. During the lockdown, the ban on gatherings meant many businesses had to close, many people lost their income and jobs.

To support these vulnerable groups, the government provided a support package of about VND 62 trillion ($2.7 billion) for around 20 million severely affected people for three months between April and June. In addition, free rice distribution centers were set up in Hanoi, HCMC, Danang, Hue, and other provinces to help poor people and those affected by the coronavirus.

While the country works toward a socioeconomic recovery, the immediate response to the crisis will focus on food production and manufacturing to support labor markets. As early as 4 May, tens of millions of students from preschool to high school in 63 provinces and cities returned to school, taking another step towards returning to some semblance of normal life.

Free Rice ATM in Hanoi for Poor effected
In Hanoi, rice is distributed for free to help with the daily needs of low-income groups (photo by Thanh Van)

The whole country has been declared as an ‘Infection Risk Area’ under Section 11 of the Bangladesh Infectious Disease (Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act, 2018. As of 17th June, 98,489 cases of COVID-19 have been identified and the number of deaths has risen to 1,305.   The highest number of COVID-19 cases is recorded in the older parts of Dhaka City.

All offices remain closed to prevent the spread of the disease. The army is currently carrying out street campaigns to enforce social distancing. People in infected areas must stay at home unless absolutely necessary. A daily curfew is enforced from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

The office of the Prime Minister issued an order assigning officials to each of the 64 districts in the country to supervise and coordinate a large-scale relief distribution program for vulnerable citizens.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved an emergency grant of $300,000 to the Bangladesh Government to help respond to the crisis. In collaboration with Directorate General of Health Services, this grant will be used to procure personal protective equipment such as face masks, safety googles, aprons, thermometers, and biohazard bags.

Passengers wearing protective masks try to board on a launch at the Sadarghat terminal in Dhaka, Bangladesh (photo by ADB).

All the UCCRTF-funded cities remain under partial or complete lockdown, which is delaying progress on urban development, planning, and infrastructure programs. More importantly, cities are facing an additional challenge as the country approaches cyclone season. The combined COVID-19 and large-scale climate impacts will be difficult to manage as the responses to COVID (such as to stay inside and to maintain social distancing) are in contrast to the recommended response to cyclones, which may require people to leave their homes or congregate together in protective shelters.

​Recently, on 20 May, Bangladesh faced Super Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall in the southwestern part of the country causing serious damage to property. The UCCRTF-supported city of Patuakhali was badly affected. The government evacuated an estimated 2.4 million people from coastal districts, although observing social distancing was challenging. As an immediate measure, schools were used for more space in addition to regular cyclone shelters.

​A 3- to 4-meter tidal surge that accompanied the cyclone, however, destroyed crops and sources of drinking water.

​Relief efforts are currently underway in coordination with local administrations. According to the Bagerhat district administration, Amphan caused $50 million in direct damages with around 349 houses partially damaged and 374 houses completely destroyed. The total number of people affected by the cyclone in Bangladesh is estimated at 5,331.

A health center near Peshawar is open round-the-clock and offers assistance to mothers and their children, in additional to general consultations (photo by Mallika Panorat, European Union).

​At present, only emergency services are available in all public and private hospitals, which have recently re-opened after being closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Schools are still closed and only some offer classes online. There are also severe travel restrictions. The lockdown has affected every part of life in Pakistan’s cities.

The huge reduction in traffic has led to big improvements in air quality in major cities. While there is no data covering small cities backed by UCCRTF, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the air quality index in Lahore has fallen from 496 parts per million (ppm) in January to 37 ppm in April. Similarly, for Islamabad, average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide are below the permissible limits of National Environmental Quality Standards, and concentrations of fine particulates (PM2.5) are also within permissible limits.

Image: Tassadaq Shah UCCRTF CRO in Pakistan.

Currently, the UCCTRF-supported cities in Pakistan are not coping with other shocks and stresses from natural or human-induced hazards. However, since the cities are vulnerable to urban flooding and earthquakes, they are still at risk. The monsoon season is also drawing near (expected to start in July), which could compound the challenges faced by the cities. They will have to cope with flood management alongside COVID-19. While government officials, including national, provincial, and district disaster management authorities, are focused on COVID-19 response, this may well mean that there is less capacity to prepare for the upcoming flooding season. 

This article was originally posted on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities blog.
Cover photo by Thijs Degenkamp on Unsplash.
Salvador, Brazil: How to Decrease Gender Inequality in the Context of Covid-19

Salvador, Brazil: How to Decrease Gender Inequality in the Context of Covid-19

Coronavirus Speaker Series: Sharing Knowledge to Respond with Resilience is a weekly session organised by the Global Resilient Cities Network and the World Bank as a knowledge sharing session for cities in response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation.

Daniela Ribeiro Guarieiro, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer, Municipality of Salvador (Brazil)

Daniela currently holds the position of Resilience Manager at the Municipality of Salvador, having participated actively in the development and implementation of Salvador’s Resilience Strategy, and actively participates in the Global Network of Resilient Cities. She is currently involved with the elaboration of the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Plan of Salvador, Circular Economy initiatives in the city, and the resilient challenge to empower women entrepreneurship. She has an MSc in Public and Urban Policies from the University of Glasgow, UK, and a specialisation in Urban Economics and Public Management at PUC-SP, Brazil.

Download presentation

Watch video

Cover photo of Salvador, Brazil from Wikimedia Commons.
This presentation was originally posted on the Medium.