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November 4, 2018
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Building sustainable cities, towns and villages 

The aftermath of the recent floods must surely involve a review by all citizens of our disaster preparedness, but also our strategies for building sustainable and resilient cities, towns, villages and communities in general. Photo: newsday.co.tt

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
Visit rcsocialjusticett.org for our columns, media releases and more.

“Experiencing the need for change is the first step towards mainstreaming sustainability”—Sally Uren, CEO, Forum for the Future (2013).

In the face of disaster, it is heartening to see how our people can come together to help each other. Let’s keep the love flowing.

However, the aftermath of the recent floods must surely involve a review by all citizens of our disaster preparedness, but also our strategies for building sustainable and resilient cities, towns, villages and communities in general. On Wednesday, October 31, the world will observe UN World Cities Day.

The UN states that: “The Day is expected to greatly promote the international community’s interest in global urbanization, push forward cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing challenges of urbanization, and contributing to sustainable urban development around the world.

The general theme of World Cities Day is Better City, Better Life, while each year a different sub-theme is selected…This year, the United Nations has selected the theme Building Sustainable and Resilient Cities; because cities need support to become resilient and develop their capacity to absorb the impact of hazards, protect and preserve human life and limit damage to and destruction of public and private assets while continuing to provide infrastructure and services after a crisis.”

T&T is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – “a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015. The SDGs are part of Resolution 70/1 of the United Nations General Assembly: ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.”

SDG 11 “formulates the ambition to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable… Inequalities in cities have grown since 1980. The world’s largest cities are also often the most unequal, and this year’s theme is embraced by the action and implementation of the New Urban Agenda, which is putting the topic of inclusive cities as one of the main pillars for the urban shift.”

Here in T&T we urgently need to take stock of what we need to do to ensure that our urban and rural communities are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. As the media brought into our homes images of devastation in so many parts of T&T due to the recent floods, I could not help but agree with some of the comments about our apparent lack of ability to plan effectively.

Some of you may have read the Ministry of Planning and Development’s April 2017 document—Vision 2030 and the sustainable development goals—presented at the UN MAPS Mission Vision 2030:  “Many Hearts, Many Voices, One Vision.” Inter alia, the document states that “By 2030, Trinidad and Tobago will be able to sustain its own development and provide a high quality of life for all its citizens for generations to come.”

The five pillars that will help us to realise this Vision are headed:

  1. Putting people first: Nurturing our greatest asset;
  2. Delivering good governance and service excellence;
  3. Improving productivity through quality infrastructure and transportation;
  4. Building globally competitive business;
  5. Placing the environment at the centre of social and economic development.

Environmental issues must inform planning. As one blogger said, “imagine HDC built houses in areas that are prone to floods—near wetlands, and the HDC did not build them on stilts!” What environmental impact assessment was done in these areas? Of course, we know that there are many who build private homes in flood-prone areas also.

The challenge for us is to move from lofty ideas/policies to implementation. Time is running out. We need to use our human ingenuity to plan more effectively for what’s coming at us.

At the opening of the 71st Special Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED), (October 8, 2017) at which CARICOM’s Agriculture Ministers were present, Chairman Soeresh Algoe, Agriculture Minister of Suriname, noted that “the ferocity and frequency of storms are as a result of warmer air and sea temperatures that are altering the climate… The climate is changing drastically and we, as CARICOM Member States, are most vulnerable.”

Let’s learn from reports such as one published by the Urban Land Institute’s Center for Sustainability and Economic Performance (March 2018). It “outlines ten fundamental principles for building resilient communities that successfully anticipate, respond to, and recover from both immediate shocks such as hurricanes and other extreme weather events and long-term stresses such as sea-level rise, poverty, and declining population.”

If we procrastinate, we will face the consequences.