Adaptive Planning for River Deltas Calls for Flexible Strategies

The development of urbanizing river delta areas calls for an adaptive planning, based on flexible strategies that include the use of nature as an infrastructure.

This was a key message at the meeting ‘Adaptive planning and development for urbanizing deltas’ where international knowledge organisations told about their activities to develop more knowledge on the challenges in these low-lying and often densely populated areas.

The meeting was organized by research institute Deltares, United Nations Environment Program and knowledge network organisation Delta Alliance, in the Dutch climate pavilion at the COP21 conference in Paris on 3 December.

Deputy Secretary General Ania Grobicki at the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands called river deltas collision hot spots, where environment and development compete for the limited space that is available.

“Particularly in deltas, wetlands can play an important role balancing these two interests,” Grobicki said. “Wetlands have extremely high biodiversity that we need to preserve what is left of the ecosystems”.

According to Grobicki, the functioning of their ecosystems is important as wetlands provide several social and economic benefits, including fresh water supply and flood control.

She encouraged the water community to use successful cases of Integrated water resource management (IWRM) that incorporated and valued natural infrastructure.

Using nature as infrastructure

Director Mark Smith of IUCN’s Global water program agreed that protection of biodiversity and sustainable development can go hand in hand.

“Our focus here at the COP21 should focus on nature-based solutions,” he said at the side event.

Smith specifically mentioned their IUCN program ‘Wise-up to climate’ that links ecosystem services more directly into water infrastructure development in the Tana (Kenya) and Volta (Ghana-Burkina Faso) river basins.

The program shows that it is possible to use nature to reduce the costs for infrastructure. Nature-based infrastructure, alongside engineered infrastructure, combines costs effectiveness with nature conservation.