The World Bank has approved a $ 310 million to loan to improve climate resilience in Sri Lanka, especially to reduce floods in the Kelani basin and provide better support to poorer communities that are more vulnerable to climate change. Making infrastructure climate resilient is an important step to ensuring that countries get the most out of the investments they make.
The approach to dealing with climate change is at times so complex that Governments prefer to think in silos. Therefore they separate disaster management from other aspects of dealing with climate change, which on the surface appears to make things less complicated but can result in huge problems further down the road, literally.
Take for example the recent complaint that the Southern Expressway is causing new areas to flood and may be delaying the receding of flood waters. This has stumped both the Government and local communities because once a project costing millions of dollars is completed, there is little or no way to change it. Sri Lanka has kicked off the Central Expressway, has proposed an elevated highway to connect the Port City to the Katunayake Expressway and five light rail systems, all of which are expected to cost at least $ 3 billion, ensuring climate resilience in infrastructure projects has become an imperative.
Climate resilience has to be built into projects for several reasons. On one hand Sri Lanka already has a high level of debt and it simply cannot afford to rebuild or change completed infrastructure and on the other given finite raw materials it cannot keep repairing damaged infrastructure over and over again. Providing compensation and relief to affected communities would also be a drain on Government finances and prolonged discontent emanating from these projects could spiral into costs on the political front.
Climate change will also have serious impacts for cities. In coming decades, building resilience will be essential urban policy and a smart investment for cities. Colombo, along with other capitals of South Asia, provides many examples. The liveability of a city is decided on aspects centring on infrastructure above all else. Will roads be flooded? How bad are traffic jams? Will houses be able to withstand natural disasters? Despite congestion will people have access to power, clean water and air? How are garbage and sewage problems going to be handled?
The answer to such questions will decide whether a country is successful in achieving sustainable development or not. And while many cities are already beginning to build resilience in response to emerging threats associated with climate change, the strategies they are adopting are often win-win results, making them healthier, more attractive places to live and do business. Resilience is brandable and demonstrates a city’s willingness to embrace innovation culture. But this also demands a different way of thinking about capital and investment. The lifecycle of infrastructure projects should be built into the cost considerations and this should be a positive consideration when banks or States lend for infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka is already taking a step in this direction by attempting to move towards more renewable energy. But this effort has to be expanded to include other aspects of its development policy. It is estimated that 60% of the infrastructure the world needs is yet to be built, which means that the earlier policy makers focus on climate resilience they better off their countries will be.