B4: Making Plans that Outlast Politicians

This post is part of our live blog series from the Resilient Cities 2015 congress. For more live blogs, please click here.

The fragile lagoon of Porto-Novo, Benin, which has unique biodiversity, is regularly subjected to flooding. Zinsou Daniel Hounkpevi (Head of Technical Services, Benin) highlighted the extreme flooding of 2010 and the struggle to protect people along the shores with low funding and inadequate infrastructure. As for many other communities in the same situation, the issue of adaptation is put low on the political priority list.

After consulting with the exposed population we organised workshops with experts. Our focal point was how to maintain the living conditions of the population and to help those in the most disadvantage areas. Panels and planning are one thing. But mobilising the officials and stakeholders to get the projects going is more complex. (Zinsou Daniel Hounkpevi)

This session on how to mobilize planning tools to develop resilient cities presented experiences from three cities located in different vulnerable areas. All three represented cities are located close to water and are at risk of flooding – or, in the case of Da Nang in Vietnam, typhoons. The discussion considered how to integrate the issue of climate change into the city’s or community’s long-term planning. Or, more precisely, how the issue of adaptation can be mainstreamed within a community at a multi-sectional and inter-regional level.

Da Nang

Cu Đê River, Da Nang. Photo courtesy of Christopher Crouzet via Flickr.

In Da Nang, the ongoing urbanization along the Cau Do river has increased the city’s vulnerability to hazards, foremost of which are typhoons. Quang Cuong Dinh (Head of the Da Nang Climate Change Coordination Office) listed some key measures: increasing the awareness of the population, improving weak infrastructure, and convincing officials and politicians of the need for implementation and long-term participation.

You must understand that it is quite hard to persuade the Department of Construction, which has a limited financial budget from the local government and is used to prioritizing development objectives, to include adaptation into their planning. What we try to do is to sit down together and see how we can implement our small project in their work. (Quang Cuong Dinh)

The Coordinating Office has supported smaller projects with the aim of raising awareness and building adaptation capacity among people and businesses in the communities along the river. The small projects will develop into a larger grid, with the hope of attracting the interest of officials.

Two important points emerged from the session. The first is the challenge of implementation. Representatives from both Porto-Novo and Da Nang agree on the notion that planning documents and action plans are a good and accessible first step. The difficult part is the implementation that must follow.

This leads us to the second important point: the question of how to connect long-term planning issues with short-term political mandates. It is crucial to make adaptation policy independent of the decision-maker elected. In other words, a policy or plan must become a ”city project”, rather than being linked to an elected individual. One way is to invest in planning strategies that stretch over many mandates, says Zinsou Daniel Hounkpevi. He continues:

If you build up a staff or a team with technical knowledge and involve the affected ministry in the project, it will have a better chance to anchor the project on a long term.

This was an interesting talk from a panel with different experiences but with coinciding challenges.