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South-South Cooperation for Cities in Asia

South-South Cooperation for Cities July 2014

Lima To Delhi: What Can Be Learned On Urban Resilience?

Published: March 2015

Publisher: Southasiadisasters.net

Issue No. 128, March 2015

Theme: Challenges of Urban Resilience in India

Fast-growing cities and urban areas in the global South can be vulnerable because they lack the web of structures and institutions that enable more long-established cities to mitigate risks and, when a disaster does strike, to bounce back quickly. But thanks to many new technologies, and some smart new thinking, it is possible to bring resilience to even the poorest and most deprived urban communities.

The essence of resilience is to build into plans and daily activities a
community’s ability to weather any disaster, small or large. All cities, rich or poor, can experience a disaster of some sort, be it weather, civil unrest, war, earthquakes, shortages, or economic, financial and health crises. New technologies make it possible for all cities, no matter how poor and overcrowded, to build in urban resilience. The ubiquity of mobile phones introduces a powerful city and urban planning tool. Mapping chaotic and unplanned areas is already underway in many cities of the global South (in Brazil and Kenya for example (http://tinyurl.com/qgba8kb).

Impressively, innovators in the South are using affordable microelectronics in the form of mobile phones and laptops to gather data and map it. This computing capability was once the sole domain of big information technology companies such as IBM. Now, a single laptop computer combined with a smartphone equipped with the right software can manage a large urban area, a task that once required rooms full of computers. The data can then be used to manage growth today and re-build after a disaster. Any excuse not to be resilient has been wiped out with this technological leap.

But how to deal with the common reality of feeling overwhelmed by the many obstacles to rational planning and building for urban growth in the South? Innovators have stepped in to take matters into their own hands with simple construction technologies as the solution. One example is the Moladi system of recycled plastic moulds (moladi.net). Anybody can master this simple building technique, as the mortar-filled moulds are designed to fit easily together to construct an earthquake-resistant, beautiful home.

This approach has the advantage of bypassing the failings of authorities to enforce building codes and standards in poor, urban communities, creating safer places to live and preventing the growth of unregulated shanty towns at risk to fire and earthquakes.

Others have found social ways to organize people, even in the most desperate of conditions, providing services and laying down the groundwork for an upgrading of an urban area to improve living conditions and long-term opportunities. The concept of ‘cities for all’ has inspired many to re-energize civic organizations and networking in poor areas to ensure they are not left out of economic growth. In Colombia, a famous example of this is the escalator in the city of Medellin, which connects a hillside slum to the centre of the city, opening up economic opportunities to all (http://tinyurl.com/nm47d3u).

Still more exciting, new technologies are in the works to simplify construction of major infrastructure and new buildings. A future city will be able to gather extensive data on an expanding urban area, make detailed development plans with architects and engineers, and then have robots and 3D fabricating machines quickly lay down infrastructure and erect buildings. Sounds far-fetched?
Well, in China one company recently used a 3D machine to make 10 houses in a single day (http://www.yhbm.com/index.aspx).

An infographic from Southern Innovator’s fourth issue (http://
tinyurl.com/m9vfwur) shows 10 ways any urban area – either planned or unplanned – can build in resilience. All are proven approaches from cities in the global South.

Southern Innovator’s upcoming sixth issue will explore the interplay
of science, technology and innovation in the global South and how people are making the most of 21st century advances to increase wealth and improve human development. Hopefully, all of this innovation will lead to more resilient cities in the future!


– David South,
Editor, Southern Innovator, UNOSSC

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Model Indian Villages to Keep Rural Relevant

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The world’s rush to urban centres is the great challenge of the 21st century. In 2007, the world became a majority urban place. The consequences of this shift can be seen in the blight of urban poverty, with its slums and squalor, environmental degradation, and rising social tensions. But there are people working on keeping rural areas relevant and pleasant places to live. These rural advocates see a vibrant countryside as part of the solution to the world’s plethora of crises.

In India, a pioneering initiative is reviving impoverished rural villages. Drawing on self-organizing methods used in India since 1200 BC, the Model Village India (www.modelvillageindia.org.in) is based around India’s democratic system of Panchayats: a village assembly of people stemming back to pre-colonial times.

“Decentralizing is necessary if development is to reach the grassroots,” said the concept’s founder, Rangeswamy Elango, a head of the village of Kuthampakkam, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the bustling city of Chennai, and one of the 12,600 Panchayats in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

While all villages have the ability to use the Panchayat system to improve their lives, few are making the most of this system. The model villages are about showing other villages the true power they have at their disposal. And that with a plan and determination, they can increase their income and improve their quality of life, attracting more money from government and other sources to do so.

The concept has now expanded to 30 model villages. At its core it is about being positive, eschewing griping about problems and instead getting down to work to solve them.

“We demonstrate the basic infrastructure, sustainable housing, food security,” said Elango. “If the government is not bothering, maybe through the local people’s efforts, we can try to demonstrate a variety of development models.”

As India’s economy has boomed, its small towns and villages have withered. Home to the majority of the country’s population, they are in crisis, with declining populations and high suicide rates. India’s urban slums are where people are going – they are growing 250 percent faster than the country’s population. India is a country in danger of neither having a viable rural economy, nor viable cities, but just vast tracts of slums.

Originally left out of the first draft of India’s constitution, Panchayats became legitimized in 1992. They are now elected in every one of the 260,000 villages in India. If they use them, the local Panchayats have extensive powers to transform the destiny of a village, with control of budgets, and decision-making power on how services are to be delivered. This ranges from the provision of clean water, to burying the dead and building roads. The trick is in getting people to realize the power they wield over their destiny and how it can transform their economic situation.

“The village-level local governments are constitutionally important bodies,” said Elango, “but the way it is implemented is not good. The system is unable to deliver the goods to the people.”

The model village approach has revived once-declining villages plagued with high unemployment, chronic alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. The residents are involved in the building of new and healthier homes, providing clean drinking water, waste facilities, education services – including an academy dedicated to teaching the skills and lessons leaned by the villagers to other villages – and even trying to break down the barriers between people because of India’s caste social hierarchy.

“Instead of having a big college, this is a practical people’s model,” Elango said. “It is not done by an academic but by a layman. The learning is spontaneous and emotional.”

Elango is driven by making his village a model that works, and in turn, becoming a magnet for others wishing to improve their lives and their villages.

Elango’s village was not able to support itself with its two crop harvests a year and the villagers resorted to illegal alcohol production instead to make a living. Despite being well connected by highway with nearby Chennai, the village was socially and economically dying.

Like a spreading ink spot, the concept is to create a network of like-minded villages that act as self-reinforcing positive role models, spreading the prosperity and stability outwards. The “Network Growth Economy Model” is a direct challenge to the “special economic zones that benefit only capitalist owners,” said Elango.

Ambitious, Elango is hoping to draw in 2,000 villages over the next 10 years, until a tipping point is reached, and the model explodes across India.

A native of the village, Elango became saddened by the community’s decline, including widespread domestic violence against women. The booming city of Chennai’s prosperity had not rippled out to the village, and it was still lacking good infrastructure and sanitation. A trained chemical engineer, he was elected the President of the Kuthambakkam Panchayat in 1996, and set about using his engineer’s perspective to draft the village’s five-year plan from 1996 to 2001.

But the budget was tight. And he had to turn to innovative solutions: recycling building materials, conserving water and reducing electricity consumption. But the resourcefulness paid off, and the state of Tamil Nadu provided the money to upgrade roads, drains, build a community centre, child care facilities, 200 low cost toilets, and work sheds for the village’s industries. By the end of 2001, most basic needs were being met. He then turned to providing good quality housing for the villagers still living in thatch huts.

He has used the “Network Growth Economy Model” to tackle the unemployment and low incomes. It works like this: rather than buying food and other products from outside the village, the villages band together to establish industries to provide those products to each other. This creates jobs and increases income by keeping the wealth within the network of villages, rather than it benefiting far-away companies. The new businesses include Thoor dhal processing, dairies, soap making, bakeries, ground nut oil production, and leather making.

“India was strong when this model was in place – we had strong villages,” said Elango. “Globalization’s trickle down is not working for India.”

Resources

  • Unleashing India’s Innovation: Toward Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, a report by the World Bank. Website: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/0,,contentMDK:21490203~pagePK:146736~piPK:146830~theSitePK:223547,00.html
  • NextBillion.net: Hosted by the World Resources Institute, it identifies sustainable business models that address the needs of the world’s poorest citizens. Website:http://www.wri.org
  • CIDEM and Ecosur specialise in building low-cost community housing using eco-materials. They have projects around the world and are based in Cuba. Website: http://www.ecosur.org

Sponsored by BSHF. BSHF is now called World Habitat and it aims to seek out and share the best solutions to housing problems from around the world.

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