Building Resilience with Nature-based Solutions

Humans connection with nature is multifaceted, encompassing our physical, cultural and spiritual well-being. Recognising and nurturing this connection is essential for the sustainable and harmonious coexistence of humans and the natural world.

The connection between humans and nature is fundamental and intricate, deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and essential for our well-being and survival. Humans are a part of the natural world and depend on it for survival. We rely on ecosystems for essential resources such as clean air, water, food and shelter. Our health and well-being are closely linked to the health of the environment. People have a natural affinity with nature, and many studies have reported that spending time on nature trails, forest bathing and others improves mental health, promotes physical fitness and helps in the healing process. As a result, healthcare professionals are increasingly recognising the importance of ‘nature prescriptions’. The human–nature connection underscores the need for sustainable practices in resource management, land use, water use and development. Sustainable agriculture, responsible fishing and conservation efforts are all informed by our understanding of our dependence on nature. Recognising this connection is important to design pathways and identify approaches like nature-based solutions for recalibrating human responses towards resilience in the wake of unprecedented climatic events such as droughts, floods, intense storms and rising sea levels.

Nature-based solutions have emerged as strategies and approaches that use nature and natural processes to address various environmental and societal challenges. These solutions harness the benefits of ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources to enhance resilience, mitigate climate change and promote sustainable development. In the context of India, nature-based solutions have a crucial role to play in addressing several pressing issues.

Like the rest of the world, India also faces the challenges of climate change, including extreme weather events, rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns. Nature-based solutions, like reforestation, afforestation and the restoration of degraded ecosystems, can sequester carbon and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. These efforts also enhance the resilience of communities to climate-related disasters. Many species are at risk due to habitat loss and other factors. Nature-based solutions involve protecting and restoring ecosystems and habitats to conserve biodiversity. This includes establishing protected areas, wildlife corridors and sustainable land management practices. India is not far behind in experiencing the impacts of groundwater depletion. Integrated water management strategies that consider watershed management, rainwater harvesting and wetland restoration can improve water quality and availability. Along with this, it is important to reduce the pollution load on our rivers and water bodies due to agriculture and land-use practices. Agriculture is vital to the Indian economy, and it is crucial to shift to nature-based solutions to tackle pests and increase the fertility of the soil. Shifting to agroforestry, agroecology, organic farming, sustainable land-use practices and promoting local crops like millets can reduce the pressure on our land and provide nutrition to the population with health benefits.

India has an extensive coastline, and coastal areas are vulnerable to erosion and sea-level rise. Mangrove restoration, dune stabilization and the protection of coral reefs are nature-based solutions that can safeguard coastal ecosystems, protect communities from the impacts of climate change and simultaneously provide the benefits of livelihoods from the mangroves and the sea-weeds cultivation.

Urbanisation and development encroaching on or bordering critical habitats have been a concern. Urban planning needs to incorporate the principles of co-habitation and create green spaces, urban forests and green roofs, which improve air quality, reduce heat islands and enhance the overall livability of urban areas.

All of these experiences and practices cannot be woven without the fabric of traditional knowledge and local practices, which are not only sustainable but also demonstrates the fundamental principles of resource efficiency and circularity. Be it the use of leaf plates or use of pottery for cooking and daily use, water usage in agriculture, managing ponds and water bodies for fishing, or use of locally available materials for housing to suit climate conditions (bamboo, wood, mud) to respond to disasters like high tides and droughts, these practices can be integrated into modern environmental management strategies and aligned with nature-based solutions. Promoting community-based natural resource management can provide economic opportunities while conserving ecosystems.

In India, several government initiatives and non-governmental organisations and institutions are actively promoting nature-based solutions as part of their sustainability and conservation efforts. Implementing and scaling up these solutions requires a multi-stakeholder approach involving government agencies, local communities and the private sector. Integrating nature-based solutions into policy frameworks and development plans is essential to address the country’s environmental and socio-economic challenges effectively.

The Government of India has initiated several programmes and schemes that address variousenvironmental and sustainability challenges. These programmes aim to harness the power ofnature and ecosystems for conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation, andsustainable development, and follow the nature-based solutions approach to a great extent.Some of the notable programmes and initiatives that align well with the nature-basedsolutions approach and applicable to land, mountains, water and oceans are the NationalAfforestation Programme and the Green India Mission, focusing on afforestation andreforestation, aimed at increasing forest and tree cover, improving ecosystem services,conserving biodiversity and enhancing carbon sequestration; National Mission for CleanGanga (Namami Gange) focuses on restoring the Ganges river ecosystem through variousnature-based solutions activities such as afforestation along the riverbanks, promotingsustainable agriculture practices and ensuring the proper treatment of wastewater; and theIntegrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) that focuses on coastal and marine nature-based solutions approaches such as mangrove conservation, coral reef restoration andsustainable coastal development. A number of other programmes and schemes on RuralDevelopment and Agriculture also have synergies with practices that can be identified asnature-based solutions, such as integrated farming systems, water-use efficiency and greenstructures in the villages. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), whilenot exclusively a nature-based solutions programme, includes provisions for the developmentof rural green infrastructure, such as water harvesting structures, afforestation and watershedmanagement, which contribute to sustainable natural resource management and can besuitably classified under nature-based solutions.

The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.

This blog first appeared as an editorial in Development Alternatives Newsletter October, 2023

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