Meet Geeta Sandal – Senior Project Officer of Sustainability Management

An urban planner and water expert, Geeta has been a part of the Sustainability team at ICLEI South Asia since 2014. She is primarily involved in the project dealing with Integrated Urban Water Management System for Indian cities.

How do you think your area of work and skills have helped ICLEI in its goal of achieving better, sustainable cities?

There has always been a debate about the methods used to determine the sustainability of a place or a city. Being an environmental planner, I believe that the quality of life, environmental sustainability and competitive economics makes our cities liveable and sustainable. The victimization of environment especially in urban areas starts with haphazard development, unplanned urbanisation and mismanagement of natural resources. Indeed scarcity of natural resources and degrading environment might be the one factor that can derail our economic growth and development process.

Environmental security is no more an option it’s the necessity. Hence it has become necessary to develop short and long-term plans and strategies for natural resources management while balancing considerations such as social, economic and environmental issues.

Most of your work is dedicated to water-related projects. How do you think the developments under ICLEI’s initiatives have helped to improve an understanding of water management among city governments?

Many water related problems are caused by changes in aspects of the hydrological cycle.  The cycle of water through the continuum of the atmosphere, soil, vegetation is an important process central to energy, carbon and solute balances. The system is integrated, so changes in one part of the system will affect the others and we need to consider the dynamic interactions and feedback between the processes. Most current problems arise from tampering with one, or a few, aspects of the system with no understanding of the function of the water system as a whole.

AdoptIUWM project is one of ICELI’s initiative to guide Indian cities towards implementing an IUWM based approach in planning and management of water resources by bridging institutional and sectoral silos. It is an initiative that provides a common platform to various stakeholders where they can interact, discuss and understand the integration among various water related sectors. The eight pilot projects in four different cities are being implemented to show case the various IUWM approaches and inspiring city governments to take forward the IUWM approach to build sustainable and water secured cities.

The most amazing part of this project is that it’s not only helping city governments and stakeholders to understand the water cycle and approaches to close the water cycle loop, but it is also building an example of good governance in the cities by bringing administrative, political, local residents and various other stakeholders together to prioritise water security as their agenda and take initiatives together to achieve their vision for the city.

Residents of a city play an important role in managing or saving water resources of a city. How do you think they can contribute to the efforts of the governments and partners like ICLEI?

The greatest wealth and strength of any nation is its people especially in democratic county like India. Our culture and society embraces the philosophy that people have the right to influence what affects them. Even our constitution is intended to be of, by, and for the people.

Many times Government programs and policies fails to achieve the desired goals because these plans are poorly informed of axes of social mediation, like caste, class, age, which strategically enable or negate equal participation and people feel disconnected with the programs/policies.

Public involvement is a method for incorporating the public’s ideas, their values and interests into decisions, resulting in more responsive and democratic governance. I believe community participation is an effective policy-making tool and tangible benefits can be derived from an effective citizen involvement programs. It has several practical, philosophical, and ethical benefits. Participation build the sense of responsibility and is considered as a vehicle for creating better citizens. It is a fundamental prerequisite to achieve sustainable development.

Believe it or not, involving the public can make job much easier for the government as well as for partners like ICLEI. Participation by the public early on and throughout the planning and decision-making process provides an early notice to key difficulties and challenges for a project or program. It illuminates many issues and viewpoints, this helps in managing single-issue advocates. While their zeal for their issue will not diminish, they allow space for consideration of other issues and needs. When people are involved in solving problems, making decisions, or creating plans, they typically develop a sense of ownership, commitment to, and stake in the results of those efforts and initiatives.

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