Flooded slums: disaster's disproportionate effect on informal communities
A recent UN report shows that the growth of urban slums in the Global South paired with extreme weather brought on by climate change has dramatically increased the risk of "megadisasters," including floods. The urban poor are especially vulnerable as they do not have the proper infrastructure: poorly constructed buildings cannot withstand disasters, and poor urban planning makes rescue more difficult. This week's topic focuses on how informal communities can mitigate these risks in advance. Read on to learn about solutions from Cape Town, Bangalore, Lagos, and URB.im's newest city, Surabaya.
The big and the small: Designing for disaster and dwelling in neighborhoods of change
Tariq Toffa, Cape Town Community Manager
For newly arrived migrants and the unemployed in cities like Cape Town, wood and tin shacks built on flood plains and wetland or river fringes are often the only opportunities for land and affordable accommodation in urban areas. In 2000 it was estimated that most of the approximately 100,000 people in South Africa living below flood levels along rivers and streams live in informal settlements. A clear relationship therefore exists between unequal processes of urbanization and disasters like flooding, exacerbated by the frequent and devastating informal settlement fires ("shack fires"). There are various approaches, each with their own constraints and shortcomings, which have been undertaken to address these predictable cycles of misery.
The primary approach of the City of Cape Town has been invested in better fire emergency control (education drives, increasing fire-fighting capacity, a post-fire 2.7m² tin house, and humanitarian assistance). This has successfully reduced the fire mortality rate, but the scale of homes destroyed remains high.
A second approach, as advocated by the Paraffin Safety Association of Southern Africa, targets safe and multiple energy sources as a solution to shack fires.
In a third approach, the City has recently also begun looking toward a more pre-emptive approach to shack fires. In 2012 the City embraced a 'blocking-out' upgrading model (the reconfiguration of settlement layouts into clusters, allowing emergency vehicle access and some protection against the spread of fires), for several years the preferred model of the South African SDI alliance and local NGO Ikhayalami (fig. 1). Notwithstanding the successes of this innovative model, there are other factors not adequately addressed, such as natural growth and open space encroachment, and the reduced numbers of people who can be accommodated in the new settlement layout type.
A fourth approach explores creative, readily implementable projects or adaptions of existing strategies. 'Touching the Earth Lightly' (TEL), for example, a Cape Town-based design company, has in this regard built some innovative pilot projects which address key issues like fires and flooding. TEL's recent "light house" in Hangberg, Cape Town, is a cheap, low-tech house made flood-proof by sitting on stilts; while pre-fabricated wall panels are treated with fire retardant magnesium, and window shutters are designed with ties that quickly disintegrate in a fire, thus containing its spread (fig. 2). In TEL's "green shack" pilot project in 2012, a low-tech, vertical vegetable garden also functions as an alternative form of a fire wall (fig. 3).
A hybrid fire wall concept was also proposed by Emeritus Professor Julian Cooke of the University of Cape Town. Cooke proposed building fire walls between structures, not only to impede the spread of fire, but as the key first phase in a process of upgrading. Wall building would enable people to build their own structures up against it, and in so doing open up other spaces, including those for emergency vehicle access and services. The idea could create rich urban environments, yet is simple and economical (fig. 4).
As informal settlements are not only urban realities, but continually changing ones, an appreciation of their complexities requires continuing innovation toward more holistic and sustainable approaches, and the (political) will for their implementation. The slowness of changes or adaptions to prevailing strategies, by contrast, illustrates that new creative and innovative approaches which learn from existing processes must be implemented or piloted in parallel if they are to have any affect. The alternative is stagnation, or a new status quo, despite lessons learned in implementation. Parallel or pilot projects such as those described can in the meantime begin to bridge the gulf between formal housing delivery and the cycles of poverty and disaster.
Fig. 1: Bolnick 2011. Fig. 2 & 3: Touching the Earth Lightly. Fig. 4: Cooke 2013.
Resiliency-building for India's annual rains
Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager
One of India's biggest Bollywood exports, Monsoon Wedding, shows the celebration that traditionally comes with the annual rains. Rural villages dance with excitement as the deluge recharges the water table, bringing hope for a good crop in the ensuing months. Urban areas, however, greet the monsoon with greater caution. Mumbai's 2005 flood shut the city down for days, resulting in loss of life and crippling the country's economic capital. Other Indian cities have experienced similar destruction. For urban informal communities, the annual rains wreak havoc on their lives.
In Bangalore, the poor often reside in the least desirable areas--in lowlands, for example--where rampant flooding causes extensive damage to informal habitats. Water logging also spreads disease and places economic, psychological and physical hardship on communities with few strategic resiliency tools. The issues are exacerbated by lack of appropriate municipal services, such as storm water drainage, and by an even bigger monster--urbanization itself. Rapid, unplanned urbanization has not only resulted in lack of city services but, more importantly, has paved over natural mechanisms for handling the annual weather pattern.
A major loss due to unplanned urbanization is the dramatic reduction in urban wetlands. In India, urban wetlands have diminished by 30% in the last 50 years due to waste dumping in water bodies, rapid development with little thought to the surrounding ecosystem and slum encroachment. "Wetlands hold the run-off generated from heavy rainfall, water discharge from reservoirs or channels or snow-melt events," says an article entitled "Urban Floods in Bangalore and Chennai: Risk Management Challenges and Lessons for Sustainable Urban Ecology". "Wetland vegetation slows down the flow of floodwater. Wetlands reduce the need for expensive engineering structures." Greater protection of these natural storm drains will go a long way in reducing destructive impacts of the monsoon, and will save the city and its resident money and hassle.
While promoting more environmentally-focused development is one strategy, another should be the widespread adoption of effective waste management. "Often the best investment in drainage is better handling of solid waste to prevent systems from becoming rapidly blocked with debris," reports the Bangalore and Chennai study. Bangalore has seen a sea change when it comes to waste management in the city, launching a Zero Waste campaign and moving toward recycling at source. One of the major shifts is illuminated in the slogan changes, from "Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY)" to "Yes In My Back Yard." The promotion of decentralized waste management could be an effective step in dealing with the solid waste issue.
However, the Hindu reported last year that the programs have faced many obstacles. The municipal corporation "continues to lack the institutional capacity and resilience to implement and sustain their new vision for waste management. The cause is not helped by continued resistance from communities who do not want waste processing centers to be placed in their vicinity."
The monsoon will be rolling in soon. Vulnerable communities continue to sit in precarious positions, and city systems to handle the rains, especially with increased likelihood of flash flooding due to loss of catchment areas, remain elusive. Bangalore has made great strides in developing new focus areas and campaigns, but greater will for implementation needs to be put behind them. Then, perhaps, the rains can be welcomed again by all.
Photo credit: Archit Ratan
The flooded city of Lagos
Olatawura Ladipo-Ajayi, Lagos Community Manager
The vulnerable landscape of Lagos comes from the low-lying nature of the islands and surrounding land that make up the city, leaving it susceptible to flooding, an even more common occurrence due to climate change. The city started experiencing flooding in devastating proportions in 2011, when lives and properties were lost, and the streets became artificial beaches. The city felt the impact of heavy rainfall combined with rising sea levels, sinking sand-filled water spaces and inadequate drainage systems. Most flooding occurs during the rainy season (roughly six months in total) and are mostly felt by slum dwellers, who settle in swampy and poorly reclaimed areas of the coastal city with rising water levels. The OECD estimates that over three million inhabitants of Lagos will be at risk of flooding by 2070. Though the incidence of flooding in Lagos is a combination of natural and manmade factors, its occurrence is mostly preventable and can be managed.
In an effort to prevent an episode as experienced in 2011, the state has been making moves to further improve the drain systems of Lagos. A while back, drainage channels more than the size of over 500 football fields were widened and cleaned to improve their ability to cope with flooding. The Ministry of Environment, through its Office of Drainage System, embarks on regular drainage clearance of all 52 local government areas to prevent clogs that could lead to flooding. In areas where lacking, drain systems have been put in place, and where they are in existence, they have been widened.
Complementing the canal clearance efforts is an awareness campaign to involve residents of flood-prone areas and slums on how their actions can contribute towards lessening the effect of rising water levels during the rainy season. City officials enjoin residents to desist from practices such as indiscriminate dumping of refuse, and building on floodplains and others areas that could block drainage channels and cause flooding during monthly environmental sanitation exercises. While these preventative and reactionary measures implemented after 2011 have considerably reduced the occurrence of heavy flooding leading to loss of life and property, mild flooding is still an occurrence. It would be more sustainable to promote best practices such as those advocated by the National Emergency Management Authority to better prepare citizens, especially slum dwellers for best actions to prevent flooding during raining season. These include installing "check valves" in sewer traps to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of homes, spreading evacuation tips, and constructing barriers (levees, beams, floodwalls) to stop floodwater from entering the building.
Photo credit: Ayinde Adeyemi
Kemauan politik dan partisipasi warga cegah banjir Surabaya
Widya Anggraini, Surabaya Community Manager
Setelah Jakarta, Urb.im kini akan mulai menurunkan liputannya atas kota Surabaya. Pemilihan kota ini dikarenakan banyaknya inovasi perkotaan yang telah dilaksanakan dan menunjukkan hasil yang positif terhadap perbaikan kehidupan masyarakat di wilayah perkotaan. Untuk liputan pertama mengambil tema bencana banjir dan solusi inovatif penanggulangannya.
Banjir bukanlah permasalahan baru yang kerap terjadi di kota-kota besar Indonesia termasuk Surabaya. Beberapa jalanan utama di Surabaya menjadi langganan banjir seperti di daerah Dharmawangsan, Dr Soetomo dan Mayjen Sungkono. Selain itu banjir juga menyebabkan wilayah padat penduduk dan kumuh selalu mengalami kesulitan air bersih dan banyak ganguan kesehatan akibat datangnya banjir. Banjir juga meluap hingga wilayah sekitar Surabaya yang masih memiliki daerah persawahan sehingga membenamkan areal pertanian mereka dan kerap merugikan hingga miliaran rupiah. Sebagai upaya mengatasi banjir perkotaan, walikota fenomenal Tri Rismaharini telah melakukan berbagai upaya penataan kota untuk mencegah banjir misalnya dengan melebarkan gorong-gorong, membuat sumur-sumur resapan dan membersihkan selokan air di kampung-kampung serta membuat bozem. Selain itu adanya inisiatif baik dari pemerintah telah mendorong masyarakat ikut serta dalam upaya pencegahan banjir di Surabaya. Adanya kemauan politik yang baik dan respon dari masyarakat untuk berpartisipasi ini telah membuat Surabaya menjadi kota percontohan penanggulangan banjir.
Surabaya merupakan salah satu kota besar di Indonesia yang langganan banjir. Penyebabnya merupakan kombinasi letak kota yang memang diapit dua muara sungai besar serta banyaknya perumahan baru yang tidak memiliki system drainase yang baik dan kebiasaan masyarakat yang suka membuang sampah di sungai sehingga menyumbat saluran air dan mengganggu kerja pompa air. Terpilihnya walikota baru di tahun 2010 dengan berbagai inovasinya untuk memperbaiki tata kota di Surabaya telah memberikan angin segar bagi warga agar terhindar dari banjir yang selalu hadir.
Pemerintah kota (Pemkot) Surabaya saat ini gencar mendorong pembuatan sungai atau saluran baru untuk setiap pembangunan seluas seribu meter persegi. Hal ini disampaikan berulang kali oleh Ibu Walikota kepada para kepala camat dan lurah di Surabaya. Advokasi ini dilakukan berulang kali agar aparat di wilayah administrasi terendah di kecamatan dan desa dapat memahami pentingnya kerjasama dalam menanggulangi banjir. Kemudian perhatian juga diberikan terhadap fungsi rumah pompa agar selalu dijaga sehingga kemampuan pompa mengalirkan airnya juga meningkat. Selain itu, Badan Perencanaan pembangunan Kota (Bappeko) juga melakukan berbagai upaya meminimalisir banjir dengan membuat sumur-sumur resapan, membangun saluran air dan memperlebar maupun membuat gorong-gorong baru. Upaya lainnya adalah pembuatan Bozem mini atau waduk tempat penampungan air hujan sehingga ketika hujan deras tidak sampai terjadi genangan air yang tinggi dan meluber yang berpotensi menimbulkan genangan banjir.
Adanya aktivitas nyata di lapangan yang dilakukan pemerintah dalam menangani banjir dan bukti yang telah mereka rasakan misalkan saat banjir kini sudah banyak berkurang di berbagai titik langganan banjir, telah mendorong masyarakat secara sadar untuk ikut berpartisipasi aktif. Mereka menyambut baik segala upaya Pemkot Surabaya dan masyarakat turut serta dalam upaya ini seperti yang terjadi di Kelurahan Asemrowo dan Medayu Utara. Mereka kini dengan teratur bergotong-royong melakukan pembersihan selokan dan gorong-gorong di sekitar rumah. Adanya partisipasi warga ini mendapat sambutan baik dan penghargaan dari pemkot Surabaya untuk inisiatifnya membantu menanggulangi banjir sebab tanpa dukungan masyarakat luas maka pemerintah sendiri akan kesulitan menanganinya. Aspirasi warga yang meminta saluran air juga sering ditindaklanjuti. Advokasi agar masyarakat tidak membuang sampah juga gencar dilaksanakan sebab sampah menjadi penyebab utama macetnya saluran air sehingga banjir. Atas keberhasilan ini, Surabaya merupakan salah satu contoh kota dimana bertemunya kemauan politik dan partisipasi warga telah berhasil mengurangi banjir yang kerap dianggap sebagai permasalahan yang mustahil untuk diatasi kota.
Foto: Andre Jip
Willingness of the government and community to prevent flooding in Surabaya
Widya Anggraini, Surabaya Community Manager
Building on Jakarta, URB.im will begin its coverage on the Indonesian city of Surabaya. This is because of the many urban innovations that have been implemented and that have produced positive results in the improvement of the residents' lives. For the new node's first topic, the theme is floods and innovative solutions to overcome them.
Flooding is not a new problem for big cities in Indonesia. Several main streets in Surabaya regularly experience flooding, including in Dharmawangsan, Dr Seotome and Mayjen Sungkono. Furthermore, flooding has caused certain areas to become more concentrated and densely populated, which has resulted in difficulties obtaining clean water, causing health issues to arise. Flooding in the rice fields and agricultural areas around Surabaya has also caused billions of dollars in losses. In an effort to tackle city flooding, Mayor Tri Rismani uses city planning strategies such as widening culverts and installing infiltration systems and clean water sewers. Besides these important initiatives, the government has also encouraged the community to participate in flood prevention efforts in Surabaya. These political objectives and a responsive community willing to participate have made Surabaya the leading example in flood prevention.
Surabaya is one of the major cities in Indonesia that regularly experiences flooding. This is caused by a combination of several factors. First, the city is flanked by two large estuaries. Also, new housing settlements do not have satisfactory drainage systems, and finally, the community makes a habit of discarding garbage in the river, which clogs waterways and disturbs the water pumping system. The new mayor, elected in 2010, has many ideas to improve urban planning in Surabaya to provide welcome relief for residents, in order to mitigate the inevitable arrival of floods.
The municipal government of Surabaya is aggressively pushing for the creation of a new river channel for every construction area of one thousand square meters. This was repeatedly emphasized by the mayor to the sub-district heads in Surabaya. Advocacy of this matter is done repeatedly so that the administrative body in the lowest-class regions in the district can understand the importance of cooperation in tackling the floods. Attention is also given to the maintenance of water pumping systems to facilitate the improvement of its draining capacity. Additionally, the establishment of a long-term planning agency, Bapekko has also made various progress in minimizing flooding by building infiltration wells, constructing drains, and building and widening new culverts. Another effort is the manufacturing of miniature Bozem, or rainwater catching reservoirs, so that heavy rains do not cause high water levels and flooding.
Real-time government activity in dealing with floods has led to a significant reduction in flooding, also thanks to encouraging residents to actively participate in prevention efforts. The efforts of Surabaya's municipal government and the community are well received, and incentives are offered by the government to help with flood prevention as it is a difficult problem for them to handle alone. The community's request for more water channels have also often been acted upon. Advocacy campaigns for residents to correctly dispose of their garbage are aggressively implemented as it is the main cause of clogged waterways. For this achievement, Surabaya is one of the leading examples of cities where the meeting of political will and citizen participation has been successful in reducing flooding, often considered an impossible problem for cities to overcome.
Photo: Andre Jip