Poorest bear brunt of climate shocks in cities

  • By Zoe Tabary
  • 29/11/2017

Students wade through floodwaters after school in a flood-hit area at the Mangga Dua business district in Jakarta, Indonesia February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta


Cities are becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate pressures worldwide, with poor communities hit hardest.

"Cities are engines of growth but also centres of poverty and exclusion, and increasingly so as a result of negative impacts of disasters and climate change," says Janice Ian Manlutac, the Asian resilience lead for British aid agency Oxfam.

"In case of water shortages caused by extreme temperatures, for example, poor people are worst hit as they need to find alternative water sources which are more expensive – or compromise on its quality," she told an event organised by the Asian Cities Climate Change Network in Jakarta this week.

More than half the world's population now lives in cities, and the United Nations predicts that will rise to 66 percent by 2050, with close to 90 percent of the increase taking place in urban areas of Africa and Asia.

While experts believe this growth will globally create wealth and reduce poverty, many cities are increasingly vulnerable to climate shocks like heat waves, said Nyoman Prayoga, flood resilience programme manager at charity Mercy Corps Indonesia.

"One problem leads to another," he explained, "with rising temperatures for example disrupting power supply, which in turn can cause transport systems to fail."

Manlutac said poor communities are often excluded from planning efforts, "when they are those whose voices should be heard."

"You can't invite a street vendor to a three-hour assembly meeting – that's money out of the window for them, and they may not have felt comfortable enough in that setting to put their point across anyway," she said.

"We need to think more creatively about how we engage with them."


There is much cities in the developing world could learn from each other to adapt to climate change, rather than worrying about "reinventing the wheel", said Manlutac.

Prayoga pointed to the city of Semarang, Indonesia, where the community, including kids in schools, reports weekly on any mosquito larvae they may have found to avoid outbreaks of dengue, which thrives in warmer weather.

In India's port city of Surat, where indoor temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius, residents arrange earthen pots on roofs to keep their homes cool – the measure can reduce the temperature by two to three degrees Celsius inside, added Prayoga.

But adaptation efforts will be pointless if they ignore traditional beliefs, said Muhammad Arshed Rafiq, who works at LEAD Pakistan, a think tank. "Often the biggest hurdle in building resilience is communities' perception of disasters," he said.

"In many Asian countries we explain disasters in terms of faith, not nature – so we need to do more to communicate the science of climate change, in terms that people understand."

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