'Amount of infrastructure exposed to risk is huge': CDRI DG Amit Prothi

The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) was launched in 2019

cdri Amit Prothi

Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) is a premier body which helps countries upgrade their systems to ensure disaster and climate resilience. The body is engaging with different governments to become better prepared to deal with disasters. It was also part of the G20 discussions. CDRI last week released its first edition of biennial report which sheds light on the Resilience Dividend, a comprehensive set of advantages gained from investing in infrastructure capable of withstanding disasters and climate change.

THE WEEK spoke to Amit Prothi, the director general of CDRI, on how to make our cities and disaster prone areas safer. Excerpts:

Q/ Can you tell us about the CDRI and its work?

A/ There are three pathways for us – capacity building, advocacy and technical assistance. At COP26 (an apex body on climate change), in 2021, prime ministers of India, UK, Australia, Jamaica, Fiji and Mauritius announced an ‘infrastructure for resilient Island states’ programme.

The population that's more at risk, in case of an event, is highly concentrated in these small island states. They may have just one airport, one port, they may have just one road connecting across an island; so, their dependence on infrastructures is incredibly high. And the geography of small islands is such that a lot of them are also impacted by natural hazards, like earthquakes, volcanos, tsunami, which can damage the telecommunication cable connecting the island to the rest of the world.

At COP27, we said we will provide technical assistance for establishing early warning systems, resilience of airports, coastal infrastructure, resilient building infrastructure. We have received 50 expressions of interest from 28 nations, which shows the demand on the ground. We have selected 13 countries that will get support.

We also setting up a trust fund where the government of India is a primary donor, while other countries like UK, Australia, and EU have given funding directly. Some other countries are supporting with the technical staff and assistance.

We were very active in G20. We were one of the invited international organisations. So, the CDRI supported about five working groups, the infrastructure working group was looking at the cities of tomorrow. The CDRI provided principles of resilience for these cities of tomorrow. There is lot of urbanisation happening, so how do we shift it with a better awareness of risk. We are also part of the sustainable finance working group, environment working group.

Q/ What are your projects in India?

A/ We are looking at resilience of three critical infrastructure – telecommunication, power and airports. We are studying the power sector in Odisha which is affected by cyclones. We looked at how transmission lines be designed so that they don't fail or get disrupted during the cyclones. We looked at 111 airports around the world and come out with a report on how these airports were equipped to handle risks. In the second phase, we picked up four airports, including two in India, to look at specific gaps and guidance they need in case of floods, earthquakes or cyclones. Like, in Kathmandu, it took them 36 hours to operationalise it during the 2015 earthquake. Once it was active, the relief started coming in.

We are also doing the study in telecommunications sector in five states and at the national level. We are also looking at health infrastructure - whether they are equipped to handle crisis. We are studying and building the health system in Sikkim. We have also started studies with four states and four national governments like Nepal and Fiji, looking at whether their budgets will be able to withstand the shock. We are tying up with the coalition country universities to prepare them. We are also supporting 20 to 30 young researchers for building capacity.

Q/ How receptive are policy makers to new ideas for developing resilient infrastructure?

A/ When we open newspapers, one cannot miss news of disasters. It gets people to think. There is now growing awareness, among the decision makers and experts. The amount of infrastructure exposed to risk is huge. The portion that is likely to damaged is 300 billion US dollars, globally. If one adds buildings to it, then it is 700 billion USD average annual loss; if one adds disrupted services, then we are looking at one trillion dollars plus of annual average losses. When we start with this argument, people tend to listen.

Q/ Recently, we saw massive floods in Himachal Pradesh and how cracks were appearing in Joshimath. What could have been done to prevent it?

A/ Development is progressing at a fast pace. There are three aspects. First, that the information that you need to understand the risk. Second, do we have the people who understand the risk, formulate policy and implement it? Third, that the people - be it contractors or house owners - are aware of the risks and action needed. To quote my personal example, while getting a loan from the bank for buying an apartment in Washington, D.C., where I lived for many years, the banks wanted to know if it was in the flood-prone area. The information was there in the form of maps; the banking sector recognised those maps, and the house owner also took an informed decision. Many things are yet to be developed in our case, be it rules and system to implement them. The risk information is missing. Changes are happening, NDMA is doing a lot of work, and even the CDRI was set up to address this.

Q/ In urban areas, how can extreme heat be addressed?

A/ If you look at the cities, certain parts are more hotter than the other. This difference can be upto five-six degrees. It's called urban heat island effect. This means not everyone is impacted equally by heat. One part is understanding which part and which population is vulnerable. Second part is what can be done about it. Solutions like cooling through air conditioning leads to higher power demand. Work is going on make air-conditioning more efficient. But only a certain population will be able to afford air-conditioning. Some cities give out targeted advisories for different areas on how to tackle it. That is only on day-to-day basis, but long-term solution is needed. Some cities promote painting rooftops white to reflect heat; some are promoting green canopy; some are using water like in Athens.

Athens is one of the hottest cities in Europe and is going to get one of the worst in terms of extreme heat. They have aqua-duct built by the Romans. It was functional till 150 years ago, but it still collects water and dumps it. The system is being revived to use the water to cool the city. This infrastructure is being rethought so that ponds or fountains can be built.

In Gujarat’s Kutch area, which is affected by extreme heat, Sewa (an NGO), with help from Rockefeller Foundation, compensate the women for loss of work. (Called Extreme Heat Income Insurance, it provides compensation during the extreme heat so that they don’t hazard their health for financial stablity.)

Q/ What about flooding. Are there any success stories?

A/ Amsterdam is doing a lot in the water management space. The city has flooding problem from four sources - river, water from underground, precipitation, and coastal flooding. They prepared a strong master plan. They are pushing roof gardens, which are able to collect rain water. Their infrastructure serves multiple functions. Like water plaza, a basketball court built four feet below the ground can hold water during the rains and become a pond. They built a parking garage, which can also hold water during the rains. So, building drains is not the only solution. This is innovation in terms of solving the problem where we look at it in an integrated manner.

Q/ The CDRI report talks about the majority of funds going to the developed countries and lower- and middle-income countries. Can this be addressed?

A/ It should be addressed. There are a lot of actors who are trying to. As we are not a bank, we cannot give money. But, we can give our technical assistance. For example, on the mitigation side, the green energy side, the private capital has understood how to build wind farms, solar farms. But, for adaptation, the climate change is still very new space. There is acknowledgement, but how does one get private capital to go there. It is still being figured out globally. One of our focus areas is to look at work which also unlocks financing. For example, one area is cyclone prone. Can private sector pitch in? This is still being worked.

Q/ India is making huge capital investments for building infrastructure. Will you classify the infrastructure as disaster resilient?

A/ We are trying to ensure these investments become resilient. Our studies in various states like Odisha is to inform the investor. That is why global database becomes important; so that one is able to see in the national database, the hotspots which can be tackled. We have tried to look from the database point of view - how much of it get aggregated in terms of potential losses. Our report will be out in the next two months. India is one of the leading countries which has been focusing on disasters a lot more than other countries. People want to learn about India's experience.

Q/ You also talked about nature-based infrastructure development. Will this low-cost investment be an alternative?

A/ When we look at certain kinds of challenges - be it landslides, coastal erosion, flooding - a lot of it is water related. The nature-based solutions work better where water is involved. We have a lot of cities on the coast and many are building concrete walls to make sure that the ocean doesn't erode. Historically, mangroves have provided wave energy dissipation so that the waves are not destructive. So, the argument for nature-based solution becomes stronger as concrete walls serve only one purpose, while mangroves not only provide coastal protection, but also give biodiversity, livelihood and oxygen. Building concrete drains to divert water (after rains) is a solution if it can be diverted to a park temporarily, so that it does not flood.

Q/ So, change is happening.

A/ The change is taking place in terms of awareness. It is still work in progress.

Q/ What are the upcoming projects?

A/ We will be launching a programme for the urban areas. We also have a high mountain area programme next year. Our focus is on power, telecommunication and geography.


Global Infrastructure Resilience: Capturing the Resilience Dividend

Key Findings of the report:

* Approx. 30% of the Average Annual Loss (AAL) is associated with hazards like earthquakes and tsunamis

* 70% AAL is associated with climate related hazards like cyclones, floods, storms

* 80% of the risk is concentrated in the power, transport, and telecommunications sectors-

* Capital investment in an infrastructure asset only accounts for 15 – 30% of overall expenditure.

* Average costs of nature-based Infrastructure Systems are only 51% of grey infrastructure projects.

* Countries with the largest infrastructure deficit also carry the highest risk.

* 67% of the global value of infrastructure assets is concentrated in high-income countries.

* The Low-and Middle-Income Countries carry the highest relative risk with a relative AAL of between 0.31 and 0.41 % compared to 0.14% in high income countries.

* High-income countries could witness an increase in AAL by 11% due to climate change; the figure could increase by 12 to 22% in middle-income and 33% in low-income countries.


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