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    India’s tea capital can recover from devastating floods – if the government gets its act together

    By Sneha Krishnan, on 22 September 2015

    Heavy flooding has affected more than a million people in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, with 45 dead and more than 200,000 in relief camps. However, there is still very little coverage of the disaster in the international media – perhaps not surprising when you consider even most Indians aren’t paying attention.

    But they should – and so should you. The fact a region that is flooded regularly should be so unprepared for the latest downpour is scandalous, as is the short-sighted or uncaring government response.

    The floods have also affected local wildlife, with the Kaziranga National Park – home to two thirds of the world’s Indian rhinos – reporting the electrocution of elephants fleeing from the water, as well as the death of at least three rhinos.

    The floods come amid reports of increasing illegal immigration from Bangladesh and poor working conditions on local tea plantations, while armed conflicts between separatist groups and state security forces make the situation in the region even more unstable.

    Image 2

    Floods in Solmari in 2012 after the floods caused by embankment breach


    Perfect conditions for tea – and flooding

    Assam is best known for its black tea, which grows well in the hot, steamy Brahmaputra valley. While the monsoon may create perfect conditions for tea, it also means the region is highly susceptible to flooding.

    More than 40% of the region is at risk and severe floods occur every few years, eroding riverbanks and dumping large amounts of sand on farmland, often rendering lands infertile.

    For local communities, these floods have been disastrous and many are not receiving sufficient aid. For example my own research on recovery after major floods in 2012 found affected families who hadn’t received the promised compensation from the government, even two years on.

    Government initiatives to build new embankments have led to further distress. For example, new barriers constructed in 2012 displaced hundreds of families who found their resettled homes were now on the wrong side of the embankments. Compensation was poor, lower than market rates, while others received no support for resettlement due to identity and land ownership issues for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

    Some embankments built along the Brahmaputra in central Assam as an ad hoc response to the 2012 floods were so poorly constructed over natural drainage they actually failed to keep the river movements in check and increased erosion. The embankments simply breached in the following year’s monsoon. The subsequent relocations and distress were entirely preventable.

    The Brahmaputra has caused serious erosion for decades now, and yet the government response has been inefficient. Plans to tackle the problem remain confined only to paper.

    image 1

    The fixing of new embankment to prevent breach in 2013, in Morigaon. (which breached within a week after this image was shot


    The real cost for Assam’s communities

    The floods in Assam have taken a heavy toll on water, sanitation, health and education systems. Affected people flee their homes and create makeshift camps, where access to essential facilities is inadequate for the hundreds of thousands displaced.

    The quality and accessibility of drinking water in particular is severely affected, and people are depending on contaminated sources – even when they know it isn’t clean. Defecation in the open becomes dangerous, especially for women and adolescent girls, all the more so during floods and regular displacement.

    During floods the government turned some public schools into relief camps for a week or two. This of course affects the school term. Once the water recedes people start leaving the camps and are forced to fend for themselves. When they return to their villages they’ll be faced with destroyed homes, lost food grains and fields ruined by silt or sometimes even entirely lost to erosion.

    The road to recovery is hard to see, particularly as no long-term support is guaranteed by government, civil groups or NGOs.

    The floods also have an adverse affect on marginalised people, such as women, who bear the responsibilities of running households, childcare and rebuilding homes after floods. A 2013 study involving 900 households around Assam found that soil erosion, as a consequence of flooding, heavily affected the standard of living for farmers. This in turn forced women to leave the home and earn an income which resulted in girls dropping out of school to look after younger siblings and do the chores.

    India’s 2005 Disaster Management Act doesn’t recognise the chronic challenges of erosion as a natural disaster. The present development plans are short-sighted. They do not feature a long-term recovery, or take into consideration environmental factors.

    In the case of Assam, disaster resilience will only be possible through education and the participation of local communities and institutions. Something that needs to be done if the area is prone to flooding.

    Image 5

    Flood-affected families living in school complex during the floods, Solmari

    What can alternative technologies contribute to sustainable development?

    By Jorge Ortiz Moreno, on 6 August 2015

    A few weeks ago the NGO Shelter Global announced the winners of its first annual “Dencity Competition”, focused on fostering new ideas on how to better handle the growing density of unplanned settlements while spreading awareness about this global issue.

    The first-placed project, Urukundu: Slum Factory consists of the creation of a small community-managed construction materials factory for the physical improvement of an informal neighbourhood that is now being partially demolished and replaced by high-priced private housing. All in the name of “enhancing” the city image of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

    Among the main features of the project is its use of local materials, local technologies and local construction systems like rainwater harvesting, clay filters for water purification and biogas micro-production systems (biodigesters) in order to stimulate the future sustainable growth of the neighbourhood.














    Out of 300 entries from 50 different countries that sought to “rethink life in slums”, the winner represents a great example of how design can sustainably empower communities. However, what I want to point out here is the relevance of alternative technology to improving living conditions in informal settlements.

    Evidence from many regions of the Global South is showing that more and more successful initiatives are including the implementation of decentralized, locally-managed and sometimes labour-intensive technologies for infrastructure improvement and socioeconomic development.

    As well as the “Appropriate Technology” movement, popularized in 1973 by Ernst Friedrich Schumacher through his influential book “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”, Urukundu: Slum Factory is characterized by a strong “people-centred” approach.

    Urukundu: Slum Factory board

    Urukundu: Slum Factory board

    Many different conceptualizations have arisen around the alternative technology movement during the last 50 years. Recently, for example, the concept of “grassroots innovations” has been proposed for technologies that come from processes of innovation that are inclusive of local communities, in terms of the knowledge, processes and outcomes involved.

    There are strong research groups in the UK at Sussex University and University of East Anglia that are exploring the role of “grassroots innovations” on sustainability and social justice issues.

    Melissa Leach and her colleagues from the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex suggest that ambitious Sustainable Development Goals are now required along with a major transformation in modes of innovation to meet them. In an article published in the Ecology and Society journal in 2012 they suggest the Appropriate Technology Demonstration and Training Centre (CEDECAP, is its acronym in Spanish) as an example of such “transformative innovation”.

    Rainwater harvesting system and their users, Mexico

    Rainwater harvesting system and their users, Mexico

    This organization works with local communities in rural Peru to identify their priority uses for electricity and then to develop energy schemes that those communities control, run, and benefit from. Furthermore, CEDECAP develops, trains, and pilots alternative forms of renewable energy distribution, focusing on low-cost technologies with low environmental impact, and fostering local research and capacity.

    In Mexico, accompanied by a group of researchers, students and consultants from the Institute of Research on Ecosystems and Sustainability of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) I have been studying and working on another alternative technology approach called “ecotechnology.”

    This refers to technologies that promote a positive relationship between their users and the environment, and are linked to a specific socio-ecological context. In our recent book “Ecotechnology in Mexico”, we describe several initiatives that have been providing small-scale ecological alternatives to meet basic human needs such as sanitation, water, energy, housing and nourishment in rural and urban areas.

    Woman cooking with an improved cookstove of Patsari Project, Mexico

    Woman cooking with an improved cookstove of Patsari Project, Mexico

    From experienced NGOs to recently launched social entrepreneurship initiatives, there are a wide range of actors that are innovating in order to to reach the poor and meet the needs that neither the private sector nor the governments have been able to.

    Some examples of this are the Patsari Project, a participatory and multi-institutional initiative that promotes a sustainable model of firewood consumption by distributing improved cook-stoves in rural areas, and the Isla Urbana Project, which aims to provide sustainable access to water by implementing low cost rainwater harvesting systems in the peri-urban interface of Mexico City and other isolated localities of the country.

    As it is illustrated by the examples given, alternative technologies are playing an important role on development and they should be kept in mind as a vehicle for community empowerment and sustainability in the Global South. A better integration of the research done is needed and, of course, more attention on the issue is fundamental.

    Jorge Ortiz Moreno is an independent consultant with experience in grassroots innovations, clean technologies and peri-urban dynamics. Nowadays he coordinates a program about “Clean technologies and sustainable development” at the Eco-technology Unit of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM). He graduated from the DPU’s Urban Development Planning MSc programme in 2014.
    Although most of his work has been done in Mexico, Jorge has participated in research projects about housing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Olympic Legacy in London, UK, and urban infrastructure in Medellin, Colombia. He is interested in how social entrepreneurship can foster well-being and environmental justice for the peri-urban poor and the role of grassroots innovations as tools for sustainable development in Latin America.

    Building Partnerships for South-South Cooperation

    By Daljeet Kaur, on 29 July 2015

    Considering the increased focus on South-South Cooperation development dialogue and India’s long standing presence in assisting development in various regions of the world, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) is implementing a new model of cooperation support in India.

    DFID India’s Global and National Team (GNT) is at the centre of delivering the transition from an aid-based UK-India development relationship to a mutual partnership for global development, in line with the vision set out by the Former Secretary of State in his Emerging Powers speech at Chatham House in February 2012. Enhanced policy engagement with India on national and global issues through programmes like the Knowledge Partnership will be at the heart of this transition.

    The Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP) with which I am associated as a Senior Programme Manager from the last two and half years will be completing its pilot phase in June 2016.

    Women Development Group Members in Oromia region of Ethiopia

    Women Development Group Members in Oromia region of Ethiopia

    IPE Global, where I work, is implementing the programme on behalf of the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The programme aims to produce and disseminate high quality research and analysis products, share Indian and global evidence on policies that impact development outcomes and support advocacy towards strengthening policy design and implementation.

    To date we have promoted sharing of Indian evidence, best practices and expertise with Low Income Countries in order to facilitate evidence-gathering and uptake.

    Priority Areas

    Since its beginning, the programme has prioritised the following areas for engagement: (a) food security, resource scarcity and climate change; (b) trade and investment; (c) health and disease control; (d) women and girls; and (e) development effectiveness.

    The aim is to step up collaboration around ideas, knowledge, evidence, accountability, technology and innovation between UK, India and the developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. The work my team and I carry out, focuses on Indian policy and practice with the explicit intention of developing India-Global networks, strategies and sectors to promote knowledge exchange through south – south collaboration.

    Recently, we were able to facilitate a partnership between, Kudumbashree, a state led mission in India and Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs Ethiopia, on the theme – women economic empowerment.

    Delegates with Kudumbashree SHG members - women construction workers

    Delegates with Kudumbashree SHG members – women construction workers

    What can Self Help Groups contribute?

    Today, the MFIs in Ethiopia are motivated to extend the frontier of financial intermediation to those traditionally excluded from conventional financial markets, the Poor, and especially the poor women. At the same time, various studies point out that the Self Help Groups (SHGs) can act as a tool for advancement and empowerment of women in India.

    The microfinance movement through the SHG model in India has also been considered an effective development tool to enable women SHG members to graduate to microenterprises and in turn, to address poverty. The Indian experience of empowering marginalized women through formations of SHGs with institutional linkages and the growing demand for microfinance development in Ethiopia created an ideal situation for us, at the programme, to promote collaboration and cooperation between the two countries.

    In my opinion, this India-Ethiopia alliance on SHGs represents a success story of mutual cooperation between two nations. It reiterates the potential for knowledge based cooperation and collaboration between nations in the global south to set their agenda and achieve sustainable development.

    Indian SHG Group Leader and Ethiopian SHG Group Leader

    Indian SHG Group Leader and Ethiopian SHG Group Leader

    Progress towards SDG Goal 17

    As development processes become ever more complex, I see a growing demand for knowledge and analytical products that can provide evidence and learning for policy changes and reforms. Informing and influencing policies are hence critical aspects of inter­national development and I believe, together we can bring a change by focusing on advocacy along with service delivery.

    By adopting the new Sustainable Development Goals, countries are also committing towards achieving the Goal 17 – to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

    More specifically, countries will promote multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the SDGs. In addition, these collaborations will encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships.

    These two targets 17.16 and 17.17 are banking on the existing North-South cooperation and the emerging South-South, and triangular cooperation.

    Ethiopia Delegates; Kudumbashree Executive Director; Chairman Dr.M.K.Muneer, Hon’ble Minister for Panchayat & Social Welfare; IPE Global Team

    Ethiopia Delegates; Kudumbashree Executive Director; Chairman Dr.M.K.Muneer, Hon’ble Minister for Panchayat & Social Welfare; IPE Global Team

    India’s role in the post-2015 development agenda

    In the post-2015 era, India plays a critical role in sharing learnings it has accumulated in the process of gradually upgrading from a low-income to a middle-income country. I hope partnerships based on knowledge will support effective and targeted capacity building in developing countries and help achieve common objectives.

    Through activities undertaken and studies supported by the programme, we hope to engage more with policymakers and key stakeholders. By providing informating their choices through evidence-based advice, we hope the effectively influence the policy environment and reforms in India.

    At the same time, we through the KPP are also aiming to strengthen India-UK partnership and significantly contribute to global development opportunities across the developing world.

    Daljeet Kaur has a double Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU and Environmental Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has worked as a qualified planner and an architect for more than eight years at a variety of organisations.

    At present she is working as a Senior Programme Manager for the DFID funded Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP), implemented by IPE Global. The programme has established more than 50 partnerships to date with a wide range of partners in a number of sectors, including IDS (Sussex), UNDP, FAO, and Governments of Ethiopia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya and Malawi. For more information about the programme please visit

    One city, different realities: Infrastructure development and urban fragmentation in Nigeria

    By Olusegun Ogunleye, on 22 July 2015

    Osbourne Foreshore_wide

    Modernity meets Informality at the reclaimed portion of Osborne Foreshore

    Every day on my way to work, when I cross Third Mainland Bridge and look to my right, I see the type of planning portrayed by conventional wisdom as progressive, reformist and modernist in its contribution towards attaining societal goals. In Lagos this is manifested in the high rate of construction activities observable in Osborne Foreshore, Banana Island, and Lekki axis.

    These developments demand the reclamation of large expanse of land, raising environmental concerns. However, when on my way back home and on the other side of the bridge, I see ‘blighted areas‘ such as Makoko and Okobaba; [1] they remind me of what Oren Yiftachel referred to as the dark side of planning – where government actions or inaction leads to the marginalisation, oppression, and impoverishment of citizens.

    Bana & Osbourne

    Land reclamation at Banana Island (left) and Osborne Foreshore (right) as seen from Third Mainland Bridge

    The accumulation of wealth in places like Osborne Foreshore is in stark contrast to the endemic poverty prevalent in places like Makoko and Okobaba, hence resulting in a great divide. However, of greatest concern is the fact that government action and/or inaction is – whether knowingly or unknowingly – reinforcing, reproducing, deepening and institutionalising the divide.

    My concern is premised on the belief that the government’s infrastructural development drive, which places emphasis on road infrastructure, is based on the hegemonic assumption that all citizens, in spit of their of diverse socio-economic backgrounds, will benefit equally.

    An example is the 1.36 km cable-stayed Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge built at a cost of N29 billion of public funds (approx. £93 million/$145 million). Although lauded as a good initiative, more pertinent questions to me are, who are those benefiting from the presence of the bridge? Whose productivity, livelihood and wellbeing does it enhance? Whose position is it privileging?

    Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge_500

    Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge

    I would posit that the government is, whether by design or accident, indirectly subsidising the means through which the elite/property class can ensure their livelihood and wellbeing at the expense of the poor/non-property class. Especially when such interventions are substantiated with discriminatory and exclusionary acts such as not allowing commercial means of transportation – the main means of mobility for majority of Lagosians – to use the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge.

    Such practices have been revealed to be detrimental to sustainable development and akin to what David Harvey termed ‘the quiet redistributive mechanism’, which helps to maintain or widen the socio-economic gap.

    My thoughts therefore are: if government can subsidise the wellbeing of the elite/property class, why same cannot be done for the poor, marginalised and non-property class? A good opportunity for such was when residences of Makoko submitted a regeneration plan for their area, which was rejected by the government on the basis that the community did not have legal title to the occupied land. [2]

    I view this as a missed opportunity for local collaboration and partnership with these community-based organisations, especially those designated as ‘blighted areas.’ This could be used as the basis for developing an alternative model for urban development and slum/informal settlement upgrading in Lagos, hence setting a precedent which could have been gradually institutionalised through wider public learning.

    View from Third Mainland Bridge towards Makoko (left) and Okobaba (right)

    View from Third Mainland Bridge towards Makoko (left) and Okobaba (right)

    This is given added significance in view of a statement by officials of the Lagos state government, in a 2008 Cities Alliance report, confirming the limited implementation, success and, sustainability ratings of the government’s approach towards slum upgrading.

    I am of the opinion that if the government really wants to promote sustainable and inclusive development, it needs to take deliberate actions to ensure the poor and marginalised are not excluded from accessing opportunities for wealth creation.

    Also of importance is seizing opportunities, such as the Makoko scenario, when they arise to expand the room for partnership and collaboration with poor and marginalised communities. This is because, as aptly pointed out by Agbola & Agunbiade, “marginal people are unlikely to have access to the resources that are required to overcome the restrictions imposed by marginal environments and thus enable them to live beyond the limits of subsistence”.

    I believe that if the government does not take deliberate steps to address the great divide we are currently seeing, it will result in the continuous fragmentation of Lagos along the lines of socio-economic conditions and levels of infrastructural development.


    [1] 42 ‘blighted areas’ were identified by UNDP in 1995 (Agbola & Agunbiade, 2009).

    [2] This is not peculiar to this case but is a general issues with most slum/informal settlements (Agbola & Agunbiade, 2009). For the experience of Ijora Badia another blighted community refer to The Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC), 2013, If you love your life, move out! Forced eviction in Badia East, Lagos State, Nigeria, London: Amnesty International.

    Olusegun Ogunleye is a development practitioner with several years working experience in the field of town planning in Nigeria. He has also taken part in urban-based research in Nigeria, London and, Dar es Salaam. His passion lies in the area of urban governance as he sees it as a veritable tool to ensure and enhance the wellbeing of citizens. He also believes in the potential inherent in community-led development as a means of ensuring sustainable development. Olusegun graduated from the MSc Urban Development Planning in 2014.

    Cinema as a vehicle for social integration in the city

    By Marco Trombetta, on 17 July 2015

    Cinema is one of the least accessible forms of art. It demands a certain amount of financial investment into equipment for filming, lightning and sound, people like actors, assistants and editors – not to mention time. Nevertheless our digital world has opened new doors for visual storytelling through the democratisation and affordability of tools necessary for filmmaking [1].

    Inhabitants of excluded spaces – those living outside the ‘formal’ city – are able to use the tools of the digital age, from mobile phones and affordable recording equipment, to online platforms for funding and distributing films, to tell their own stories about the cities they live and experience. Informal settlements are part of the landscape in many cities in the Global South, where for some social exclusion, discrimination, drugs and violence are part of everyday life [2].


    Mainstream cinema has picked up these themes through films like El Elefante Blanco, Tropa de Elite and recently Trash. These films have been supported by formal studios and were able to find distribution channels into mainstream cinemas.

    However there are directors living in informal settlements who have created fictional depictions of life, while adopting a more realistic approach with its basis in the world within which they live. The interesting link lies more between the cinematic representations of the city than with the story. The mise-en-scène and the urban space not only imply a cinematic setting, but also indicate sociocultural context.

    The realistic mise-en-scène of these very low-budget films does not illustrate absolute authenticity but is rather the filmmaker’s articulation of their reality [3]. It is an invitation for the “outsiders” – people living in the formal sector – to understand where these dwellers live and what their perceptions of reality are.

    Image by Eflon via Flickr:

    These types of films – similar to post-war Italian neorealist cinema [4] – privilege shooting on location and adopt a style of cinematography visually similar to a documentary. The example of Cesar Gonzalez, an Argentine film director living in the informal settlement Carlos Gardel in Buenos Aires province, is relevant.

    His films are a testimony to the power of art as a tool for social recognition and integration. Cesar Gonzalez found a voice in cinema that he didn’t have before when he was involved with gangs and smugglers. He directed his first film Diagnóstico Esperanza in 2013 which was filmed with the local people from the informal settlement Carlos Gardel (the film is available to watch on YouTube).

    The film depicts life in a space within the city that has its own vocabulary, its own vision of the world, its own soul. As “outsiders” we walk in the streets of this unfamiliar world. His films progressed a wider social acknowledgement among intellectuals and movie critics of informal settlements not just being seen as excluded spaces, but also replete with excluded people.

    His latest film “What can a body endure?” (Qué puede un cuerpo?) was made possible by crowd-sourcing funds and then released online via Youtube. It has currently more than 200,000 views. His two films so far have gained critical praise and have been screened in a very prestigious local cinema in Buenos Aires [5]. The National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts (INCAA) is currently funding his third film.

    Cinema has been historically involved with political contexts, helping to contribute to a collective perception of reality, and reflecting the state of society at that time. As the example of Cesar Gonzalez has shown, not only can films become a vehicle for telling a story in an artistic way but also as a tool for social recognition and integration – breaking down some of the physical barriers that seem to divide the city.


    Marco Trombetta holds an MSc in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU. He was involved in local politics in Argentina, participating in several NGOs and international forums such as the G20. He has a passion for Cinema and he writes film reviews in his blog Red Curtain Cinema.

    Contradictions of urban mobility: riding a motorcycle in India

    By Daniel Oviedo Hernandez, on 14 July 2015

    The city of Ahmedabad is the seventh largest in India and an interesting case of rapid urban development and large investments on transport-related infrastructure. Policies implemented in the city in recent years aim to respond to challenges common to cities in the Global South, such as rapidly increasing populations, rising income and extensive private motoring.

    By 2011, nearly 120,000 of Ahmedabad’s 6.35 million inhabitants used the recently developed Bus Rapid Transit -BRT- system each day. Its name, Janmarg, translates as ‘The people’s way’. Due to my increasing interest in the development and performance of systems like this, and the common ground for comparison with the BRT of my home city Bogotá, in Colombia, I spent nearly four months in Ahmedabad.

    Ahmedabad 3_500

    My First Impressions

    It is commonly said that first impression last. As a transport planner, my first impression of the city was of a chaotic system governed by individual rather than collective goals for mobility.

    Therefore, the first thing that I asked myself when interacting with Ahmedabad’s traffic was: how does such a system work? My own experience later would show me how. Furthermore, my available travel choices led me to experiment first-hand with the local market and conditions for private two-wheel motoring.

    I became a transport planner driving a motorcycle in a city I had previously understood to be unable to organise its transport system and struggle at the hands of too many private vehicles. Despite my lack of familiarity with the city and its traffic rules and behaviour, the decision to drive myself became both a game changer and a moral and intellectual struggle for me.

    Urban mobility in Ahmedabad

    The streets of Ahmedabad present a very rich transport ‘ecosystem’. A large share of travel takes place through walking, cycling and public transport – formal and informal. The latter encompasses public and private bus operators, rail, auto-rickshaws and taxis.

    As with most cities in India, the increase in private motoring of two and four-wheel vehicles is palpable. Data from the last two decades shows per annum growth rates of 15% for two-wheelers and 10% for private vehicles. In large and medium-sized cities 40–50% of urban households own a two-wheeler [1].

    Recent initiatives attempt to palliate the effects of this traffic mix in regards to congestion and environmental pollution. These include converting the entire fleet of rickshaws to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), developing a BRT, and increasing road capacity. Nevertheless, demand for public transport and increases in private motoring look set to continue at steady rates.

    Ahmedabad 1_500

    The environment for travel choice in Ahmedabad partly explains such behaviour, particularly among medium and higher-income groups.

    1. There is a disconnection between bus services (both regular and BRT) between each other and with other forms of mobility.
    2. High temperatures incentivise motorised travel or at the very least act as a clear disincentive to walking and cycling.
    3. The infrastructure network gives priority to motor vehicles rather than pedestrian spaces (including sidewalks, overpasses and traffic lights), which indicates a system built primarily for private vehicles.

    Contradictions in Ahmedabad’s transport planning

    These seem to contradict some of the underlying objectives of other recent investments and the general discourse of sustainable transport. Short and medium-term investments, such as Ahmedabad’s BRT have taken precedence over shaping the long-term urban growth and achieving sustained ridership of the public transport system [2].

    This of course, places enormous strain on the city’s road network, leading to congestion, long travel times and pollution, particularly in peak traffic times. However, the general mobility in the city can be said to be quite dynamic during other hours.

    Short discussions I held with motorists revealed that in most cases people driving were willing to overlook these costs in exchange for the freedom of mobility, security and comfort that the vehicle provided, something to which I could agree with based on my own experience.

    Why do people drive themselves?

    One particular aspect stood out in some discussions: the social status associated with owning a vehicle. Here the private vehicle becomes another instrument for social differentiation.

    Not only there is an unequal distribution of resources and options for mobility, but travel choices themselves serve as a mechanism for stratifying society [3]. Motorists and non-motorists are perceived as somehow different social groups, and this in turn reinforces the choice of private vehicles over non-motorised and public transport.

    Despite awareness of the negative externalities of private motoring and the benefits of public and non-motorised transport from social, economic, and environmental perspectives, urban and transport professionals are not exempt of making choices in relation to their personal mobility.

    In fact, the practitioners, academics, students and planners in disciplines related to sustainable urban development that travel by private vehicles in India and many other cities in the global south can be surprisingly high. This is a contradiction, though not an uncommon one.

    Ahmedabad 2_500

    In light of such a reality the question arises: If people planning and researching urban transport make the choice of using private motoring, how can we expect to reduce usage of these transport modes amongst the general public? The answer is as much a matter of policy as it is of civic culture and collective action.

    What does this mean for integrated transport planning?

    A conflict seen consistently across cities in India, as in Ahmedabad, is a lack of traffic management and enforcement.

    There is a disconnection between policy objectives, which lead to large investments in infrastructure and modernisation of transport as an urban service on the one hand, and very limited actions taken in the daily operation to strengthen sustainable alternatives for making effective use of such infrastructure on the other.

    How should we address these contradictions? It is clear that for people with sufficient resources and choice private motoring will always be an attractive option, and it is their right to have it. The problem lies more on how to make use of available alternatives and how the system and the rest of society can contribute to a virtuous cycle rather than the current vicious one whereby more vehicles leads to more road investment and so to even more vehicles.

    Regulation and planning play a central role in enabling positive changes, as it has been shown in other developing cities in the past (examples include Curitiba, Bogotá, Buenos Aires) [4 & 5].

    However, the role of civil society in changing paradigms of travel choice is a must in order to achieve lasting transformations. If individual choice places personal benefit before costs for society, it is the role of both policy and citizens to increase awareness of these costs and empower people to adopt sustainable practices.

    The contradictions we face in similar situations can inform our understanding of our own and others’ behaviour, maybe shedding some light on how to strengthen our practice and attain lasting positive change.


    Useful References:

    1. Tiwari, Geetam. “Urban transport in Indian cities.” Urban Age (2007): 1-4.
    2. Cervero, Robert, and Danielle Dai. “BRT TOD: Leveraging transit oriented development with bus rapid transit investments.” Transport Policy 36 (2014): 127-138.
    3. Levy, Caren. “Travel choice reframed:“deep distribution” and gender in urban transport.” Environment and Urbanization (2013): 0956247813477810.
    4. Brand, Peter, and Julio D. Dávila. “Mobility innovation at the urban margins: Medellín’s Metrocables.” City 15.6 (2011): 647-661.
    5. Cervero, Robert B. “Linking urban transport and land use in developing countries.” Journal of Transport and Land Use 6.1 (2013): 7-24.

    Daniel Oviedo is a PhD candidate at the DPU where he is examining urban mobility in Colombian cities. Last year he spent around four months exploring the governance of Janmarg and its effects on the mobility of Ahmedabad as part of the UKNA (Urban Knowledge Network Asia) research exchange.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 3 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 10 July 2015


    The i-Rec conference 2015 started its final day on Wednesday 8 July with a plenary session, as has been the format for the previous mornings.

    Maggie Stephenson asked what is the relationship between shelter and survivor? – especially in light of post-disaster needs assessments (PDNAs); who decides what people need? Taking the time to discuss what is useful to survivors is therefore essential.

    Rohit Jigyasu looked at attempts to salvage cultural heritage in the wake of the recent Nepalese earthquake. In some cases traditional materials and components, especially windows, held up better than more contemporary counterparts. He is part of an initiative with the Smithsonian Institute that is seeking to ensure that this physical heritage is not lost in the wake of the disaster.

    Having been in Nepal when the second earthquake struck, Sneha Krishnan commented on the role that social networks paid in people’s preparedness when it came. She suggested that some of the early responses imposed by NGOs – such as dividing toilets between men and women, when given the extreme context they were willing to share facilities – were inappropriate. She also witnessed an indecisive response from the state who at some stages were eager to defer to outside help, and at others were very directive in their approach.


    Roundtable 4B: Linking disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) with disaster risk recovery and reconstruction

    Ilan Kelman started the session by placing DRR and CCA within a broader framework for sustainable development. He suggested that any reconstruction is done so for the future, which necessarily has to include potential impacts of climate change. As we understand that hazards themselves do not cause disasters, but vulnerability does, the emphasis on sustainability as a key contributor to DRR is brought into sharper focus.

    Drawing on the recurring effects of cyclones in Odisha, India as a case study, Sneha Krishnan argued for the value of learning from previous disasters to build resilience. For her, preparedness is key and the recovery phase is a missing link that has not yet been fully understood.

    Candida Maria Vassallo presented the importance of reconstructing public buildings as a mean of reconstructing normal life. She exemplified this process with the case of the reconstruction of new Swat Archaeological Museum in Saidu Sharif (Pakistan) damaged by 2005 earthquake and 2008 Taliban attack, but the relevance is that this process can be implemented in other contexts thanks to its flexibility and adaptability, which was appreciative of local needs and histories. The discussion that followed revolved around how we might tackle the complexity that inevitably emerges in these situations. A second key discussion point was how to rebuild communities in a way that is not merely ‘back to normal’ but a marked improvement on how thing were.


    Roundtable 2D: Planning approaches and strategies for recovery

    The session raised the necessity of longer-term thinking. This was discussed importantly with regards to listening – often to the lessons of history that past disasters have taught us – when planning for the future, and fostering an environment where collaboration and sharing of knowledge is embedded. Different tools and methods to facilitate this, within and outside of project structures, were debated.

    Understanding roles and responsibilities in relation to resources – both financial and human – was also elaborated upon. For example: who does monitoring and documentation,and how? Who decides what is insured and what aspects of the built environment are covered? The session ended with a reflection on the role of the researcher in disaster recovery scenarios, and the contribution of academic work.

    Roundtable 4C: Aspects of resilience and recovery

    One of the key themes of the roundtable was urban resilience and how it may be affected during the process of recovery by the role of the governments and NGOs. An interesting point of discussion asked what methods are used to classify populations in order to address their recovery needs, and can such a method generate tools to help recovery? This pointed to a knowledge gap concerning different types of analytical variables and the importance of developing analytical categories for the underlying social variables.

    The papers generated comparative discussion about the role of the government in the process of recovery and how their initial initiatives and efforts may impact long-term resilience with examples from Yalova in Turkey, Bam in Iran and Assam, India which offered three different interpretations.


    Roundtable 2A: Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities

    David Alexander presented findings from research into the transitional phase of post-disaster recovery in the cases of Tacloban in The Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan and the Sanriku coast in Japan, after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. He concluded that a successful transitional phase requires a pact between the survivors and the government. This could be achieved through information sharing; a clear, simple and robust plan of action; a well-defined timeline for the transitional phase,;and serviceable transitional housing and facilities.

    Charles Parrack talked about urban displacement, comparing community participation in cities and in camps. The objective of the study was to identify gaps for outside of camp strategies developed by the Camp Coordination and Camp Management Cluster (CCCM). A common theme centres on empowerment and developing social capital, which will be a focus for further research.


    Based on her work in Chile and Peru, Elizabeth Wagemann explained how people have adapted post-disaster shelters to convert them into homes. While a temporary shelter is understood to be time limited and the transitional shelter could be understood as an incremental support, both have been modified and adapted by the families, even though they are not designed for this purpose. The study compared the modifications during a five year period.

    Faten Kikano compared different types of shelters used by Syrian refugees in Lebanon over a number of years. She looked back to the shelters adopted by Palestinian refugees sixty years ago for further comparison and questioned whether camps are an effective solution to refugees’ needs. The common focus on the transitional phase in disaster recovery was carried over into the discussion. The panel acknowledged unanimously that we are beyond ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Bernadette Devilat, Julia Wesely, Rachel Valbrun and Jacopo Spatafora for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    View all i-Rec related blogs, including the summaries of Days 1 & 2 via on this page.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 2 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 8 July 2015


    The 2015 i-Rec conference continued on Tuesday 7 July with another packed day.

    The morning keynote panel saw Frederick Kimgold focus on regulatory initiatives to build urban resilience – these include four key components: Regulatory action at the national level, based on a strong legal foundation; improving and enforcing building codes; an emphasis on local implementation; and knowledge sharing at the international level.

    Stephen Platt drew his insights from 10 cases studies. His findings, from disasters in countries as varied as Japan, Turkey and Chile, showed different patterns for human and economic losses. He commented on the successes of the speed of recovery in different places, noting that rapidity, highlighting the case of Turkey, is not always the best way to achieve effective planning outcomes.

    Gerald Paragas analysed the upshot of the Typhoon Haiyan recovery efforts in the Philippines. He emphasised the roles of different actors in these processes and called for continued coordination in order to better harmonise relief and reconstruction with urban processes; recovery should always be city-driven and not donor-driven.


    Roundtable 3C: Histories, perceptions, and ethnographies for understanding urban recovery

    The presentations showed cases from in Italy, Guine-Bissau and Chile. The discussions questioned how architects should work in reconstruction – does an absence of specific architectural training in relation to humanitarian aid mean architects should be seen less as designers and more as facilitators embedded within a more holistic process of design and reconstruction?

    Certainly it was acknowledged that better dialogue between communities, architects and humanitarians is essential. Finally the speakers considered the tensions that exist around traditional construction and vernacular architecture. How can these be better understood alongside our own practice?


    Roundtable 4A: Integrated Approaches for recovery and resilience

    This session discussed examples from Haiti, Japan, Malawi and the Philippines, where attempts at integration has taken place with differing degrees of success. Time was identified as a key tension, particularly when engaging with communities. Inclusive decision making processes can be long and demand resources. Community vs production-based approaches is a big dilemma that was witnessed Philippines.

    In the case of Malawi dispersed populations added to the time needed for effective local inputs, the knock-on effect being that international organisations are not always able to make the most of local capacity. The conversation therefore turned to post-disaster adaptive resilience and at what point does the transition from recovery to resilience-building take place, and how does this work?

    Roundtable 2C: Challenges, character, and tools for recovery

    These four presentations tackled different solutions around how to make recovery faster and more effective. They looked at logistical challenges faced during the response and early recovery stages following the Canterbury earthquakes; the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as enablers of multiple interactions actors and people involved in recovery and reconstruction; new methods for clearing debris; and how the type of disaster itself can impact the type of reconstruction that takes place.


    Roundtable 2B: Community-driven practices

    Four different case studies from Africa, Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil were presented. It was suggested that vulnerability (especially of the urban poor) has always been tackled and studied using a top-down approach. Informal settlements remain almost invisible – therefore researchers and organizations should engage in a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange with the population.

    By doing so, it is possible not only to identify the root causes of local vulnerabilities but also the social resources and capabilities that can contribute to resilience at a local scale. Interventions developed by researchers and NGOs should be community-controlled and should involve all the relevant stakeholders. Moreover statistical measures are recognized as being insufficient to measure community recovery, and this could be revised in order to incorporate local needs and perspectives.

    A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

    A series of walking tours, looking at areas of London that have undergone reconstruction and transformation, took place yesterday afternoon

    Roundtable 5A: Relocation from hazardous areas

    Using comparative cases and single in-depth studies, this session took a critical lens on the relationship between hazards, vulnerabilities and risks, and – more broadly – between hazards and development. It was emphasised that relocation efforts have to consider the reasons why people live in hazardous areas in the first place, and why some people refuse to evacuate, move away or eventually return to these unsafe sites.

    A general point that recurred throughout was that relocation is not only about housing, but also livelihoods, infrastructure and basic services, economic opportunities, social networks etc. Post-disaster relocation happens in a situation where people are traumatised and rapid decisions are taken. The challenge is therefore to think beyond just improving post-disaster relocation, but also to consider pre-disaster management of the diverse risks that residents are confronted with.

    Roundtable 5B: Relocation and resettlement strategies

    These four presentations focused on empirical cases that gave insights into some of the challenges of relocation and resettlement. These included attachment to place, and a loss of urban identity through to knock on effects in terms of planning such as urban sprawl and the need to better manage self-build housing within a coherent planning framework.

    It was suggested that in the case of Fukushima, Japan, preparedness has focused chiefly on natural disasters, rather than human induced disaster, which was a reason behind the large number of casualties. In Montserrat, part of the West Indies, a large scale relocation on the small island-state placed a heavy strain on the few health facilities that were well placed to serve the affected population.

    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Elizabeth Wagemann, Sneha Krishnan, Serena Tagliacozzo and Julia Wesely for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    i-Rec Conference 2015 – Day 1 Review

    By Matthew A Wood-Hill, on 7 July 2015


    The 7th i-Rec conference got underway yesterday. As Cassidy Johnson explained in the introductory session, the network began in 2002 with just 20 people. This year an impressive 120 people are here in London, as the network continues to grow.

    The first keynote session set out some of the key questions to be discussed over the forthcoming days. Allan Lavell asked “does transformation within reconstruction take into consideration the context appropriately?” He elaborated on two modes of reconstruction: expensive retrofitting against disasters on the one hand, and an understanding of reconstruction and recovery in terms of everyday risk on the other.

    Jennifer Duyne focused on the opportunities for reconstruction, suggesting there is a need for more local involvement in devising appropriate solutions to disaster risk reduction (DRR) and reconstruction, particularly in informal settlements. Stronger collaborations between humanitarian and reconstruction agencies could go a long way towards making this a reality.

    Situating the conversation within the urban context, the focus of this year’s event, Graham Saunders asked what does it mean to operationalise a specifically urban DRR and reconstruction? He went on to expand on the opportunities that exist within cities for collaborations across different types of groups and institutions.


    Across the three days of the i-Rec 2015 conference there are 14 sessions. the plenary sessions apart,  these are grouped into six thematic roundtables and associated sessions.

    Roundtable 1: Disasters in Urban Contexts

    These conversations focused on the spatial dimensions of ‘the city’ as a space where disasters, and recovery/reconstruction occur. Specifically, what do planning decisions made in one part of the city mean for others? And how can interventions be scaled up? An interesting discussion emerged out of the differences in resilience and the capacity to respond of ‘stress cities’ – which may face a more diverse set of hazards – versus ‘shock cities’, set up to cope with larger, more clearly observed hazards.

    Roundtable 3A: Linking a past, present, and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design, and its influences on urban recovery

    Two presentations were made, by Camilla Wirsching Fuentes on open space in San Pedro de la Paz, Chile and by Rachel Valbrun on DRR in post-blitz London and post-earthquake Port-au-Prince. The speakers drew upon their personal connections to recent disasters in these places. In their critiques they drew attention to the trade-offs that seem to exist between urban planning and DRR and recovery, such as the pressing needs for shelter and the benefits of keeping more open space so planning can take place with a longer-term perspective.


    Roundtable 6: The role of local governments in recovery

    The four presentations in this session offered some interesting case study examples – from Chile, Iran, New Zealand and the Philippines – with rich empirical evidence on how states performed post-disaster from varying perspectives – researchers, practitioners and varying outcomes. A key topic of conversation centred on who leads the reconstruction in different geographies. Where the local government coordinates this they can be left exposed to blame and criticism if the process in efficient or ineffective, whereas the private sector has different levels of involvement in each of the cases. The fundamental question that the panel were ultimately unable to agree upon was ‘How can reconstruction support local government?’

    Roundtable 3B: Culture, place, and identities in urban disaster recovery

    This Roundtable discussed the connections between people, place, culture and risks. The question of who decides what risk is and what is the perception of risk relates to the question of what is it that forms people’s attachment to place. Culture was discussed as something beyond the built environment and more about the people, not just the monuments – expanding the definition of cultural heritage to include the day-to-day lives and activities of people. In the process of recovery, what role does culture play and what impact does recovery have on culture, especially in the case of displacement?


    Book Launch and Discussion: Shelter after Disaster by Ian Davis

    The first day concluded with a discussion on the publication of a new second edition Ian Davis’ book; the first edition was published in 1978. Ian expressed some of his observations about what has and has not changed in the last 20 years of DRR. Accountability still remains an important topic when considering the range of actors involved in relief and reconstruction efforts. A paternalist idea of what constitutes good practice also remains – the consequences of this include half empty temporary settlements and inappropriate transitional shelters, showing tangible areas that can be improved upon.

    In terms of what has changed though, he sees better cash and rental support, and an appreciation that disasters occur not only in rural areas of developing countries, but in impact developed countries and – importantly in the context of the conversations taking place in this conference – in urban areas. Nevertheless the growing urban populations that have brought more attention to urban risks constitute a formidable challenge that has seen escalating casualties at the hands of natural disasters over the past two decades.


    The respondents were also keen to flag up some of the challenges we still face, and have not resolved in this period. These include a need to evolve beyond needs assessments, a reluctance to fully learn and incorporate the lessons of the past, and an observation that so-called transitional settlements invariably remain so, very often becoming permanent.

    In addition new issues, such as rental housing and urban planning, and coordinated technical assistance are now more fully on the agenda. Maggie Stevenson commented that the value of the book is being ‘not about the people, but about us’, asking the critical question: are we doing what we are supposed to do?

    Day 2 is already well underway. You can follow the live updates and conversations via #irec2015 on Twitter, and look out for the day 2 blog tomorrow.

    Matthew Wood-Hill is the Media & Communications Officer at the DPU. This post was gratefully put together with the aid of a number of rapporteurs who attended the sessions. Thanks go to Jacopo Spatafora, Garima Jain, Lisa Bornstein, Sneha Krishnan, Rachel Valbrun and Elizabeth Wagemann for their inputs.

    Read more about the 7th International i-Rec Conference on Recovery and Reconstruction in Urban Contexts via the conference website where you can also view abstracts of all of the papers resented in the sessions mentioned above.

    The 7th i-Rec conference is here!

    By Sneha Krishnan, on 6 July 2015


    For the past few weeks I have had the i-Rec conference on my mind, while ensuring CGI gets delivered to remotest regions in Nepal. Now I am in London UCL, to welcome 120 registered participants to the 7th international conference brought together by i-Rec, The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL) and official sponsors International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB).

    The innovative conference format includes 14 round table sessions, 7 plenary sessions, London reconstruction walking tour, key note presentations and also introducing the book launch of the Second Edition of the Reconstruction Text-Book “Shelter After Disaster, by Ian Davis”, which was originally published in 1978 by Oxford Polytechnic Press.

    This 7th biennial conference looks at the following sub-themes: 1) Disasters in urban context, 2) Housing and beyond: reconstructing lives, reconstructing cities, 3)Linking a past, present and future: histories, urban imaginaries, urban design and its influence on urban recovery, 4) Supporting urban risk reduction through reconstruction, 5) Relocation from hazardous areas and 6) Local governments, urban governance and institutions.

    There are participants from both academic and practitioner backgrounds presenting research across both urban and rural contexts, and debating the major issues revolving in themes and trends in disaster recovery and reconstruction. What entails in the organising of such a conference of massive scale and what lessons can be drawn from such a collaboration of high levels of expertise and experience?

    The conference had initially received 85 abstracts which were blind, peer-reviewed by 13 members of the scientific committee requesting for further details, improvements and encouraging practice-based approach, threading a balance between empirically-rich practice accounts with academic rigour and methodological preciseness.

    For the next three days delegates from across 22 countries have gathered to hear from and discuss new areas of research and collaboration on disaster recovery and reconstruction in urban areas. More details are available on the conference programme and abstracts online.

    Sneha Krishnan is doctoral candidate at University College of London. She is based between the school of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering Department and The Bartlett Development  Planning Unit. She is also  a member of various academic and professional bodies such as EWB-UK, SanCop, IRDR, and RedR India. This posted originally appeared on her personal blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, for real-time conference commentary @snek87.