27 January 2009

Asian cities team up to prepare for climate change

By: Thin Lei Win, AlertNet, 27 Jan 2009 12:44:00 GMT

People wade through a flooded road after heavy rains in the southern Indian city of Chennai, November 2008.<br>REUTERS/Babu

People wade through a flooded road after heavy rains in the southern Indian city of Chennai, November 2008. (REUTERS/Babu)

BANGKOK - Asian cities will form a network to prevent disasters and prepare for the impacts of climate change with an initial investment of around $50 million from the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation.

The network, which will start with six cities in India and Vietnam, aims to help poor and vulnerable residents become more resilient to extreme weather and rising seas.

It will receive some 70 percent of the philanthropic foundation's $70-million funding for its five-year programme on climate change, which also includes agriculture projects in Africa and policy initiatives in the United States.

"While there is much discussion focused on mitigating future climate change, we must also address the impact of impending climate change, which is irreversible and will continue to accelerate in the coming decades," Judith Rodin, the foundation's president, told reporters on Tuesday.

She said cities in the network would be better equipped to stop catastrophes happening and protect their populations from the longer-term effects of global warming.

"By mid-century, climate change may subject 132 million people in Southeast Asia alone to resurgent hunger and poverty and another billion Asian people may struggle to find fresh water," Rodin warned.

Of the six cities participating in the first phase, three are in India - Surat in Gujarat, Indore in Madhya Pradesh and Gorakphur in Uttar Pradesh - and three are in Vietnam - Danang and Quy Nhon in the centre and Can Tho in the southern Mekong Delta.

Work will start immediately in these cities, where the foundation will collaborate with officials, climate scientists, technical experts and civic groups to analyse vulnerability to climate change risks.

These pilot projects will share experiences and serve as a model for other cities, with plans for the programme to be rolled out to Thailand and Indonesia.

Ashvin Dayal, the foundation's managing director for Asia, said projects would range from flood management in India to insurance against coastal storms in Vietnam and climate-sensitive disease surveillance systems in Thailand.

Eight of the world's 10 countries with populations most at risk from sea-level rise are in Asia, where millions live in coastal zones, according to the U.N. climate change panel. The region is also experiencing rapid urbanisation - 60 percent of urban population growth in the next three decades is expected to happen in Asia.

The network's first cities were selected partly because they have yet to make major infrastructure decisions, avoiding the need to retrofit existing infrastructure as in mega-cities like Bangkok.

Initial funding will come entirely from the Rockefeller Foundation, but Rodin said the goal was to expand the network with help from partners, including the World Bank.

"It is anticipated that by 2012, a network of cities in Asia will have demonstrated robustly the ability to prepare, withstand and recover from the predicted impacts of climate change," Dayal said.

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