Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh and almost all of it surrounds the Ganges River Delta. Dhaka, which is extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels faces other threats: the monsoon rainfalls often overwhelm drainage systems and flood streets. Paradoxically, Dhaka also lacks clean water; as the population of 24 million sucks wells dry, seawater rushes in to take its place.
Urban planners will despair at the idea of Dhaka becoming climate-resilient. Rafiq Azm, an architect from Bangladesh, leads the team that is redesigning Dhaka’s historic south to make it more resilient to climate change. “If the challenge becomes a problem, it’s misery,” says Azam. “But if you think of a challenge as an opportunity for innovation, it turns into a celebration.” Azam began by revitalizing the city’s neglected urban parks, turning them into small green oases that double as water-catchment areas: deep trenches below collect and store rainwater runoff from the parks, which is then filtered and pumped to a community tap as drinking water. Existing drainage ditches collect non-drinkable runoff from the streets to reduce flooding. He and his team have transformed 31 playgrounds and parks in community. “Rain is no longer a pain in these areas,” he says. “It’s reason for celebration.”
Storm surges threaten low-lying cities globally; if Dhaka’s experience is a cautionary tale of the challenges of climate change, its solutions could be equally applied elsewhere.
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