Green infrastructures such as forests and watercourses have sustained humankind’s evolution over time providing food, climate and water resilience, air and water quality, as well as countless recreational and inclusive social benefits.
However, Green infrastructures are gradually replaced by gray surfaces (such as dikes and dams). On an increasingly urbanized planet, Man seems to forget that nature is his greatest ally. At least until now….
Despite nature being allied with Man since the beginning of its existence the concept of green or natural infrastructure is relatively recent. The European Commission describes it as any instrument that makes possible to obtain ecological, economic and social benefits through solutions based on nature which allow people to live better. Green infrastructures provide attractive solutions to environmental, social and economic problems and make it possible to alleviate the impact of natural disasters related to climate change.
Green and gray infrastructure (such as dikes and dams) are the yin and yang of a successful strategy in the course of sustainability. As opposing concepts, they can and should be synchronized in 21st century reality. In an era in which climate change and water scarcity are global concerns green infrastructures present themselves as sustainable and multifunctional solutions as opposed to gray structures which usually have a single function.
A natural infrastructure strategy allows for several economic benefits and greater climate resilience, greater carbon absorption, better air and water quality, better energy efficiency and numerous social benefits such as recreation and inclusion for the communities involved.
The icing on the cake is that it’s much nicer to look at a forest than a gray wall and sometimes they have exactly the same function as filtering sediment or water, assures Filipe Feltran-Barbieri, Senior economist who leads econometric analyzes in Agricultural Economics and Environment in restoration projects, Natural Infrastructure and New Climate Economy.
Water Resources Management through Green Infrastructure? Yes, it is possible.
When natural areas are reduced to make room for urban expansion giving way to agricultural or degraded land the water supply is compromised in its quantity and quality. Climate change tends to aggravate this reality. Increases in torrential rains alternated by prolonged droughts lead to a greater need for sediment management due to severe erosion and a greater need for storage during the rainy season for use in the dry season.
Conventional water management strategies (such as the construction of dams and reservoirs) have prevailed at the expense of green infrastructure, forests or wetlands which when managed to protect the downstream water supply ensure the availability of water in cities through green infrastructures are also a response to the challenges that climate change poses to water management entities with regard to the availability and quality of this vital resource. The restoration of forests brings numerous additional benefits such as filtering sediment and reducing erosion (which results in less turbid water) with economic benefits in water treatment and management due to the lower need for the use of chemical products, energy and of manpower.
Restoring forests makes possible to rehabilitate ecosystems and deliver better quality water to build infrastructure, regulate water flow and reduce the risk of flooding. The incorporation of a green strategy makes possible to maximize the efficiency, performance and resilience of conventional structures, allowing water to reach treatment plants with better quality.
The challenges of the 21st century do not allow for the adoption of a single-color paradigm because we remain captive to the capital already invested which is why the green paradigm in an urban environment is still not felt. As explained by David Marlow in an edition of Water magazine 2013 Research. We know that it is not possible overnight to disable an entire system and replace it with another. But natural infrastructures make it possible to alleviate complex engineering solutions to ensure the availability and quality of water playing different roles in the sustainability of ecosystems and being fundamental components of water security strategies.
WRI Brasil has presented numerous reports offering detailed results of the Investment Analysis in Natural Infrastructures applied to different regions of Brazil, which strengthen and financially justify the investments of the water sector in natural infrastructures. In this context, the Guandu System in Rio de Janeiro which integrates the largest Water Treatment Plant in the world was the subject of a series of analyzes that can help in sanitation and water resources management strategies. The report resulting from this analysis proves that forest restoration can complement and safeguard the Guandu System, the main source of water supply for the Metropolitan Region of Rio de Janeiro.
It is sad to think that nature speaks and that the human race does not hear, wrote the French author Victor Hugo, in the 19th century. How many times have we opted for gray structures when the answer was in nature, right in front of our eyes? Just look at the new concepts and management of urban spaces. Nature is taking a back seat in the minds of man. And even so, things are not going well for humanity. About 600 million people remain without access to safe drinking water. Droughts affect more than 35 million and by 2050, 300 million people could be flooded once a year. Where is Humanity going wrong anyway? If it’s true that our ability to survive depends on our ability to value nature, then our future doesn’t bode well.