From heavy rain to drought, landslides and earthquakes, India is at risk of almost every type of natural disaster. The growth of the urban population will exacerbate the effect these risks have on cities; but with a population of fast technology adopters and a progressive government championing innovation, India is fast moving towards an exciting period of rapid improvement in urban resilience.

Regional responses for nationwide benefit

With an area spanning 3.28 million square kilometres and encompassing mountains, desert and coastline, India is subject to the entire range of environmental and climatic threats and events.

The country is made up of 28 States and 8 Union Territories – as a result, resiliency planning cannot be implemented by a uniform nationwide approach. Each state and even area within that state is subject to its own physical, economic and political challenges. Whilst these individual challenges do need to be addressed at a local level, during our project work we’ve seen that the areas enjoying most rapid improvement in urban resilience are those that have embraced a coordinated effort with neighbouring and national governments.

Mandovi river India’s resilient cities | Royal HaskoningDHV

Growing pressure on cities to improve resilience

Historically it has been the poorer members of the population who have suffered most from flood, drought or other natural disasters. With more than 67 percent of the population still living in rural areas this remains the case; however, the urban population is growing rapidly so extreme climate events will increasingly affect built up areas too. India’s cities are under pressure to adjust to increased demands on infrastructure and services and from the problems that overcrowding can lead to in the event of extreme weather.

Digital services to enhance resilience

With more than six decades of experience in India and a headquarters in Delhi, Royal HaskoningDHV is delighted to be playing a key role in the country’s critical infrastructure development and national building programme. Our expertise in the Flood Resilience, Water Management, River Cleaning, Water Supply and Sanitation, Urban Development, Maritime and Aviation and Transportation sectors have led to us contributing to multiple government schemes addressing issues related to socio-economic development, poverty alleviation and climate challenge impacts. Through coordination with multiple ministries and departments, Royal HaskoningDHV is helping deliver a digital transformation that weaves together many ideas and thoughts into a single, comprehensive vision along the lines of the Digital India platform.

This commitment to promoting digital services for the welfare of the public and bringing transparency to overall governance is embodied in the ambitious Smart Cities project. The project will build 100 resilient and inclusive Smart Cities, improving the quality of life of residents by transforming core infrastructure (water supply and sanitation, drainage, urban transport, solid waste management, electricity supplies, green spaces, safety and security etc.) through ICT based digital services.

The smart cities concept depends on a coordinated effort which will see processes and infrastructure improved and integrated command and control centres established. These command and control centres will oversee data collection from monitors, cameras and other measuring systems and enable a city-wide response to be coordinated; allowing, amongst other things, traffic to keep flowing and the delivery of a more uniform and reliable water and wastewater system.

A coordinated effort

With a population of early and fast adopters of digital technology – facilitated by the low cost of data – the way is clear for a rapid expansion in the development and use of digital tools to improve resilience to climatic and other natural risks. India has the second highest number of cell phone users in the world and this connectivity can and should be harnessed to help deliver better forecasting and reaction to both every day and emergency events. For instance, the installation of Doppler rain radars could help keep traffic flowing and road users safer in times of heavy rain by linking into traffic signals as has been done in Rotterdam.

Beyond the cities – digital services for rural resilience

Under programs such as the National Hydrology Project (NHP), the central government is investing in real time data acquisition tools for the basins, rivers and weather and strengthening capabilities of various contributing departments in water resource management. Embracing digital services at the basin level and allowing data to be collected, processed and transmitted as quickly as possible will enable local authorities to evacuate or relocate people rapidly in the event of disasters/ extreme events. As a result, stakeholders will be able to adopt a more proactive approach to disaster management.

India’s resilient cities Kulhna Bangladesh | Royal HaskoningDHV 

Expediting the path to resilience

The journey to digital integration has just started but, given the growing pressures on our cities and rural environment, it must be made a priority in order to expedite the path to a more resilient future. Over the years we have seen first-hand how the success of development projects depends on the coordination of efforts from the entire spectrum of interested stakeholders.

Royal HaskoningDHV’s experience bears out the importance of inclusive planning, the adoption of the latest technology, a positive and receptive attitude from stakeholders, transparency and a decentralized decision-making process. The state governments which work in an integrated manner with their internal and external stakeholders have attained better results than the state governments that do not.

In short, good politics leads to good development.

The key to better resilience for our cities – and rural areas – lies in the coordinated adoption of digital tools and services to make up the lost time in building the capabilities of the stakeholders along with modern resilient infrastructure. As the government continues to pursue this goal, the people of India will soon be reaping the benefits.