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Towards Sustainable Urban And Peri-Urban Forestry


Many cities in the world are focusing on the concept of ‘green cities’ with efficient urban and peri-urban forestry model that not only gives cities the green look with their well-planned avenue tree cover and green buildings, whereas, the focus is also on creating green spaces with water bodies to address mitigation of urban heat island effect

By Salam Rajesh

“In an urbanizing world, the contributions of forests, trees, and associated vegetation to climate change mitigation and adaptation, disaster risk reduction, public health and well-being, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable economic recovery and growth are increasingly important”.

This assertion of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) underlines the fact that many cities across the globe are ‘highly exposed and vulnerable to the impact of climate change, which threatens their populations, infrastructure, and ecosystems’.

The concurrent discussion is on the issue of local and global temperature extremes which are evidently increasing, with heat waves reportedly becoming more frequent by each succeeding year. In fact, even Manipur which usually has a maximum reach of near 34 degree Celsius in summer recently experienced a temperature rise to near 40 degree Celsius in some parts of the State.

The consequent impact of unprecedented rise in temperature locally raises heat-related mortalities and compounds existing urban heat island effects – a process that is becoming more relevant presently. The process also increases energy needed for cooling, which in turn elevates both greenhouse gas emissions and expenditure on energy and again impacts the socio-economic lives of particularly those families living marginally.

A recent report of the UNECE (2021) titled ‘Sustainable Urban and Peri-Urban Forestry: An Integrative and Inclusive Nature-Based Solution for Green Recovery and Sustainable, Healthy and Resilient Cities’ outlines that “Urban trees, forests, and green spaces have been increasingly recognized as important components of more liveable, healthy, and resilient cities”.

The report further stresses that “Functioning urban ecosystems help clean our air and water and to cool urban heat islands. They also help to support our well-being by shielding us from floods and landslides and providing opportunities for recreation”.

This statement reflects the thrust that many cities in the world are focusing on the concept of ‘green cities’ with efficient urban and peri-urban forestry model that not only gives cities the green look with their well-planned avenue tree cover and green buildings, whereas, the focus is also on creating green spaces with water bodies to address mitigation of urban heat island effect.

“Sustainable urban and peri-urban forestry (SUPF) is an integrative and strategic nature-based solution that can help develop green, sustainable, and resilient cities”, says the UNECE report, while stressing that “SUPF goes well beyond the expansion of the urban tree cover via afforestation and tree planting; it requires long-term management of urban forest ecosystems to ensure that urban trees and forests are cared for and mature and that the benefits they provide are optimized over time”.

At the local scale, this latter statement is quite doubtful on the level of dedication to greening Imphal urban area in the concept and model of a ‘green city’. It is accepted that Imphal ‘city’ is growing unplanned, and the absence of a dedicated master plan is at the root of ‘all evils’, so to say.

The level of city planning as here in the State displays deficit in many ways, of which the more evident factor is in the modelling of avenues and street lining without a proper identification of shade-providing tree species, nor preferring of local species. The idea of ‘sponges’ in providing wet spaces to absorb urban heat island effect is evidently absent, too.

The UNECE’s report supports action as part of the Commission’s “Trees in Cities Challenge” which was launched at the United Nations Climate Action Summit during 2019. The Challenge is UNECE’s ‘voluntary global campaign engaging mayors and cities to localize action to combat climate change and foster urban sustainable and resilient development by implementing tree planting and adopting or strengthening urban and peri-urban forestry management practices’.

The concept of modeling cities’ urban planning by balancing the choice of tree cover juxtaposition with water bodies is fairly popular as in European cities. The balance of green and blue provides a healthy outlook to cities while providing breathing spaces and recreation for city dwellers. It also strengthens the mechanism to fight back the urban heat island effect.

At the same time, too, the report stresses that ‘although the demand for urban woodland, parks, and other green space is growing, continuing urbanization, urban densification, and urban sprawl often result in the loss and fragmentation of urban natural areas’. This is indeed a fairly complex setting on two polarizing factors – the one impacting urban landscapes negatively while the other looks at providing green spaces for benefits to humans and the environment mutually in a compact space.

The importance of urban green space is explicitly included in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the report outlines, “Goal 11, target 11.7 calls for universal access to safe, inclusive, and accessible green and public space, in particular for women and children, older persons, and persons with disabilities. However, significant progress is needed to meet this goal, as currently only about 47% of the world’s population lives within walking distance to open public spaces”.

Urban and peri-urban forestry makes “essential contributions to our health and well-being. Research has identified specific contributions to physical, mental, and social health, as well as to cognitive development. People who live in greener urban areas and/or have easy access to public green space are in better mental and physical health and are more likely to engage in social interactions in their neighbourhoods”, adds up the UNECE assessment.

In sum, it is as good as saying that the development of green spaces amidst the ‘concrete jungle’ is essentially required for ensuring a friendly environment that can help address human health issues and contribute towards local community’s effort at climate change adaptation at the micro level which when added up amounts to significant impact at the global level.

For Manipur, the Government needs to re-do the State’s policy planning to a level where the best practices from around the world can be picked up for easy implementation, and perhaps can be replicated in the other urban areas across the State. This could help ease the state of increasingly rising temperature and humidity being experienced by the year.

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])

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