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Sinking cities

  • Published at 10:44 pm May 20th, 2018
Cities like Rotterdam in the Netherlands have cleverly designed public spaces such as Place Benthemplein to store water during storms Wikimedia Commons

Forming global partnerships to find solutions

Conversations around climate change adaptation in Bangladesh have predominantly focused on rural adaptation strategies, including research on climate resilient crops and new technologies to boost farming efficiency. The impacts of rising seas are already being felt in southern parts of the country as salinity intrusion is preventing farmers from successfully growing traditional crops. 

However, climate change adaptation in urban areas is a growing concern - climate change is predicted to increase the number of people living in extreme poverty by 100 million by 2030 and cities in Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable. According to data from the World Bank, the urban population in Bangladesh has grown from fivemillion people in 1970 to 55 million in 2015. Cities likeDhaka are some of the fastest growing in the world - five thousand hectares were added to the city’s footprint between 1999 and 2014 to accommodate a rapidly growing population, most of which was made up of impervious surfaces, reducing the drainage capacity of the areaand exacerbating flooding during heavy precipitation in monsoon. Municipalities in Bangladesh should be looking for place-based solutions that can increase the resiliency of the most vulnerable, the urban poor.

Bangladesh has already been working bilaterally to develop partnerships with countries that have expertise in water management and resiliency planning, such as the Netherlands. Over the last 50 years, the Dutch and Bangladeshi government have worked together on engineering projects, planning efforts for disaster management, research, and policy development. However, little of this partnership has addressed the challenges of urbanization and the increasing risk of city dwellers to heat stress and inundation. 

Dutch cities like Rotterdam have integrated spatial planning in their water management efforts for centuries. The city’s integration of hard and soft engineering and planning efforts has enabled it to be one of the most resilient and well-prepared delta cities to respond to stresses related to climate change. For example, Rotterdam has adapted to its poor drainage capacity and related inundation through the development of public plazas that function as water storage during storms. Dhaka’s public space has been shrinking, with only 32 percent of its landscape being “urbanized open space” in 2014, according to the Atlas of Urban Expansion. Multifaceted solutions

that manage environmental shocks and enhance the city’s public realm need to be explored as Bangladesh continues to urbanize.

Overall, Bangladesh’s global networks need to be utilized to allow for transformational urban adaptation along with rural strategies.

Ashali Bhandari is a former Visiting Researcher at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, and is currently completing her masters in city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania, USA.