Disaster-prone communities should help plan infrastructure to weather storms

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 10, 2015 10:11 AM

By Alisa Tang

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Disaster-prone communities should be involved in planning their infrastructure to help ensure basic services can weather storms, floods and other disasters, researchers said.

Floods can contaminate drinking water with sewage, storms can knock down power lines and drought can shut down hydropower plants, the researchers, from six Asian countries, said at a meeting in Bangkok.

Power outages can be critical at hospitals, and cause hardship in sectors like the fishing industry, which relies on refrigeration to keep its catch fresh, said Maarten Akkerman of GreenID, a Hanoi-based NGO focusing on sustainable energy.

"Loss of electricity ... forced seafood producers or fishermen to take their seafood elsewhere. They had to rent cars or storage space in other cities, which is costly,” said Akkerman, who conducted his research in Vietnam's coastal city of Quy Nhon.

Storms and flooding could saturate wood, leaving it useless for cooking, he said, recommending alternatives such as industry waste being used for biogas cooking systems, as well as small-scale solar and wind power systems along coasts, or small hydropower systems in mountain streams.

"Vietnam has very centralized power – coal, gas and hydropower," Akkerman said.

"Decentralized energy could help with energy access during natural disasters," he added, noting that community level energy solutions would be more resilient in the face of climate change.

Several of the researchers – part of the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network – had just started studies looking at ways to strengthen clean water supplies and sanitation in flood-prone areas.

They said community involvement in the planning and management of any solutions was key to ensuring the projects were sustainable.

In Bangladesh, for example, Habitat for Humanity worked closely with a slum community in the capital Dhaka that suffered frequent floods to solve their drainage and waste problems.

"The drains were plugged with plastic, paper, everything people threw on the ground," said John A. Armstrong, the director of Habitat for Humanity in Bangladesh.

About a year ago, the NGO helped form a community water and sanitation committee that designed a waste management system that they could manage. They collected money from families, picked up garbage, and then cleaned and covered up the drains.

"This last season, they didn't have any flooding. It wasn't a problem," Armstrong said.

(Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Ros Russell)