Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On Habitat Planning

UNDP, during post-tsunami reconstruction, was proposing to develop "Habitat Development" guidelines. Some of the guys even toyed with the idea that we could participate in the process. It led to some ruminations ....

Habitats happen. Habitats develop - over time, over years, over decades. They are developed by the people who inhabit these habitats – they add, modify, take away, build, renovate, restore as per the needs that are felt in a given context, in a given time. It is hence not necessary that a response that was appropriate in a given time, in a given context, with a given community will be appropriate in another time and another context, with another community.

Hence, habitat development is a contradiction. For it cannot be "developed" or "created" at one shot, as a response in reconstruction.

However, a habitat development approach can be taken up. It would mean that the response is appropriate in the given time and in the given context with an eye for future expansions and modifications. (and hopefully with learnings from the past).

Habitat approach can only be a holistic response – a response that comes about when there is a deeper, greater understanding of the environs of the habitation – the land, its undulation, the water resources, the vegetation, the peoples, the lifestyles and patterns, the relationships between humans and humans, between humans and the environment, between humans and animals.

Are there givens in such a circumstances ? Can we say that response X, Y, Z is needed to make the habitat most suitable ?

How does one establish guidelines under such circumstances ?

The Butterfly Effect

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas ?
- Philip Merilees

The above phrase refers to the Butterfly Effect – a phenomenon whereby a very insignificant change in a complex system can significantly alter an anticipated course of events. It refers to the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events.

This term could very well refer to the Climate Change crisis that the world faces, where a small event in the Arctic Circle, like a breaking of a ice shelf, can lead to a series of unconnected events that could eventually sink a small island in Southern Pacific Ocean.

Climate change is an issue that has unified the world like no other… It has converged economic, social, environmental, political, gender, equity, and all other such concerns into one overarching concern – the well being of our planet. It has converged on the same platform, countries, communities and sectors that otherwise would not even see eye to eye, let alone work together. It has made the concern of an Eskimo living on the Arctic Shelf, the concern of the person living in the equatorial forests of Papua New Guinea.

The reverse also holds true. For if we are to reverse or slow down the process of Climate Change, it can only happen through tens of thousands of small and large initiatives the world over. It would require the flapping of a million butterfly wings to stop the climatic extremes that we are on the verge of facing.


Edward Norton Lorenz (May 23, 1917 – April 16, 2008) was an American mathematician and meteorologist, and a pioneer of chaos theory. He discovered the strange attractor notion and coined the term butterfly effect.