How should India look at developing coastal cities, especially one that are blessed with large inland water-bodies? A working paper from Icrier looks at Kochi, Kerala, and how it could harness its water-bodies’ economic and conservation potential, to answer this. Kochi’s bountiful supply of inland water—comprising the Lake Vembanad and the rivers flowing into the lake, including the Periyar and Muvattupuzha rivers—make it an ideal test case for harnessing such potential. The water system and its ecology are critical for the city’s natural drainage, flood protection, and also to its local economy (fishing, coir ). Icrier’s Zeba Aziz, Indro Ray and Sandeep Paul argue that the water channels in the city can also provide an alternate avenue for transport—estimates indicate that the costs of establishing inland waterways are only 5-10% that of 4-lane highways, while the maintenance costs are roughly 20%. Implementation of ferry services in just five major routes in Kochi can lead to net emission savings to the tune of 7,500 tonnes of CO2 annually.
Coastal cities around the world, and especially in lesser developed nations, are areas of high vulnerability. Without the right planning, the threats from climate change get compounded—in India, urban management laws like the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, have left out most of the urban water bodies, causing the cities to grow over them at significant ecological cost. Kochi used to have an extensive ferry system but as the city developed, there was a marked improvement in road-based transport in the city. To counter the poor state of the ferry infrastructure, as well as a lack of navigable waters within the inner reaches of the city, an integrated approach with the involvement of all stakeholders is needed—the government, industry, civil society and conservation groups. The Kochi Metro Rail Ltd., the agency in charge of the city’s metro project, for example, has acknowledged the potential of waterways and proposed a “water metro” project that aims to overhaul the existing waterways system in the city, and provide cross-modal connectivity with the metro.