Climate Resilience is a Design Challenge. This Bangladeshi Architect Has Solutions

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.

Sumit Ahmed—Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media/Getty ImagesAlready, monsoon season in Dhaka can see up to 10 in. of rain a day; with climate change, it’s bound to get worse

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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.

Read More of TIME’s COP26 Coverage: Meet the people who are working towards achieving the COP26 Agenda


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