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A family being helped by the Red Cross during the floods of South India in 2015

Making the right decisions for resilience

Sanitation engineer Mahua Bhattacharya discusses her recent study into climate resilience, which she will present at the European Climate Change Adaptation conference in Lisbon on the 28-31 May.

Climate change impacts are inextricably linked with the water cycle, whether sea level rise, droughts or storm events. As such, the need for climate resilient water supply and sanitation (WSS) infrastructure is essential, particularly in rapidly urbanising areas.

Our team at Mott MacDonald has recently investigated how best to prepare utilities and service providers for climate change impacts. The objective of this work was to identify viable, proven climate resilience practices adopted by WSS service providers both in developed and developing countries. We comprehensively highlighted key areas of climate-related risks and challenges, resilience-building initiatives, and both enabling and constraining factors. This evidence base will support policy makers and service providers, particularly in less-developed countries that are at most risk from climate change.

Our aim was to produce roadmaps that will help planners and city hall decision makers to incorporate climate resilience practices within their service delivery. Our methodology will be presented at the European Climate Change Adaptation conference in Lisbon, at the end of May.

The roadmaps aim to help utilities in integrating climate resilience across WSS investment planning and service delivery. They are intended for use early in the WSS design process to support effective long-term infrastructure investments and prevent abortive projects. Planners gain a panoramic view to locate the path of least regret, where their decisions achieve outcomes in as many positive areas as possible.

They can then decide which steps offer the most secure pathways to plan for an uncertain future, looking at climate change alongside other concerns such as economic, environmental, demographic, or political change.

Of course, cities have other destabilising factors to consider. There is population influx, food insecurity, the rise of informal settlements, stressed transport infrastructure, health, education – the list goes on. It’s about prioritising the multi-impact measures. For example, if you can cut pipe leakage, then you will save money in water provision, but also net benefits in agriculture, health and the economy, by providing a better service to customers.

The study selected six case studies for deeper investigation of how utilities are integrating climate science into decision-making, operation and maintenance of assets. One of the big takeaways from our interviews with officials from megacities such as Sao Paulo, Chennai and Manila was the sense of immediacy. Climate change is a challenge they face every day. Yes, mitigation remains a key challenge, but these cities are already deep in the adaptation stage, working hard to come up with solutions such as building flood defences, widescale rainwater harvesting and behavioural change around water usage.

Climate change is not an issue of the future, nor is it happening in obscure, faraway places. It’s the here and now. Climate resilience must be too.

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