The value of natural infrastructure
What is the issue?
Natural disasters cause huge losses annually and there have been growing concerns over the measures needed, particularly with respect to the ecosystem in which society, business and government exist. In India, approximately 805 million people were affected by around 288 weather-related disasters during 1995-2015. In order to avoid risk and damage, and to build resilience to these disasters, natural infrastructure solutions are increasingly being considered and implemented.
What are natural infrastructures?
Natural infrastructures are planned and managed natural or semi-natural systems, which can provide benefits or even replace a functionality that is traditionally provided by grey infrastructures. These natural or green infrastructures can be areas such as forests, agricultural lands, estuaries, coastal landscapes and wetlands.
Natural infrastructure – solutions to disasters
* coastal ecosystem (mangroves, coral reefs) for coastline protection from storms;
* watershed restoration (by sustainable land management) for water quality regulation;
* afforestation for carbon sequestration;
* habitat restoration or conservation for pollination;
* Phyto-remediation to rehabilitate contaminated soil and water.
At the local level, NI solutions include permeable pavements, trees and rainwater harvesting systems. Vegetative solutions consist of green roofs, rain gardens, and bio-swales, which can be used in cities and industrial parks to balance storm water conveyance systems.
Rain gardens capture rainwater in a depression in the ground, and prevent flash floods and erosion in streams by slowing down storm water. Bioswales are made along roadsides so that rainwater from the road flows towards them and percolates into the ground.
NI solutions include constructed wetlands that are used for industrial processed water and waste-water treatment, substituting traditional waste-water treatment infrastructure. Oyster reefs and sea grass beds can decrease erosion and protect coastal areas from storms, while also filtering contaminated seawater and supporting local fisheries.
Benefits to society:
* A well-managed forest can regulate water for drinking, agriculture and energy, store carbon, support pollinators and provide recreational and tourism opportunities.
* It can increase biodiversity and improve storm resilience.
* NI can help avoid water pollution that would otherwise need to pass through a conventional water treatment plant, thus reducing costs.
* As more businesses invest in NI solutions, the demand for related skills will increase, resulting in new job opportunities.
* NI can contribute to new natural resource-based industries, such as commercial fisheries.
* NI solutions offer the social licence to operate businesses and enhance public health.
* NI investments can even lead to increase in property values due to the enhanced aesthetics of landscapes.
* Mapping and assessing NI solutions is essential to achieve several historic milestones, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
It is imperative to develop and build a collaborative environment for public institutions and private companies for the success of these initiatives, as re-imagining ways to integrate nature with the communities will help in building resilience.