When I called my mother to complain about my flooded basement after the September 2013 floods in Boulder, Colorado, her response was, “Kanmani, this would have been a lot worse had it happened in India.” To a large degree, this is true. After all, Indian cities do have a larger population density and lower economic and resource capacity than Boulder. But are resource and economic capacity alone the primary determinants of resilience?
Gorakhpur, a city in eastern India, and Boulder are both prone to climate hazards, particularly floods. In both cities, major flooding events and projections that climate change will increase the likelihood of extreme rainfall events led various organizations and stakeholders to kickstart resilience-building research and activities. Upon comparing the resulting efforts in both cities, it became evident that Boulder and Gorakhpur share ‘non-resilient’ characteristics despite the apparent discrepancy in resource and economic capacity:
People do not take precautions if they do not perceive that there is a risk. In Boulder, people were simply not prepared to deal with the floods, largely because they had not experienced major floods—the last major floods occurred in the 1960s. In Gorakhpur, while floods are recurring, major flood events were far and few until the floods of 1998. It is after these floods that people started to build more flood-resilient homes.