Countries like India “very vulnerable” and need better response plans, says American expert

Observing that Hurricane Sandy, which recently devastated cities on the East Coast of the United States was a wake-up call, an American expert has warned that countries like India were “very vulnerable” to disruptions and wanted cities to be prepared with better response plans.

Referring to extreme events affecting cities, Prof. Robert R.M. Verchick, who holds Gauthier-St. Martin Eminent scholar chair in Environmental Law at Loyola University, New Orleans, said the disruptions could be in fields of agriculture and public health and related to climate change.

It was important that the response plans were based on science of climate change.

“Now the cities can make themselves more resilient,” he told The Hindu here on Tuesday. Some of the solutions could be changes in building codes, land use and development of flood plan. Mentioning how the “shrinking” of work force required to maintain power supply in New York resulted in the people not having electricity and the flooding of subways, he said that was a lesson to be learnt and “some of the things can be important in India”. New subways that were being built could have “subway stops” to prevent storm water from flooding them. Also, houses could be constructed a metre above the ground in places which were vulnerable to flooding. He cited how Gorakhpur in India was adapting important climate change strategies. For instance, the urban farmers were growing on fields which were five feet above the ground.

Prof. Verchick, who earlier served in the Obama administration as Deputy Associate Administrator for Policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that in the next 50 years, one of the top priorities for the governments across the globe would be to understand how climate change would affect their ability to protect public health and provide services which become all the more harder on a warming planet.

Replying to a question, he said the withdrawal of United States from Kyoto protocol cost that country lot of credibility. But there was a chance to gain it back by demonstrating leadership on this issue in a global way and by committing to policies that reduce green house gases in the US. The Obama administration was interested in doing that, he added. Verchick’s Fulbright research will examine how cities in India are preparing for climate change, paying special attention to New Delhi, Surat, Gorakhpur and Kolkata.