Making risk and inclusion a household name

The impact of mainstreaming Risk- and Inclusion- Sensitive Land Use Plan (RISLUP) into higher education

 By Shambhavi Basnet

Group Photo taken during the first session of RISLUP at Institute of Engineering

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Introduction

When any development organisation or technical assistance project plans an intervention for the benefit of the local community such as a training or drafting operational guidelines, the intent is to build capacity so that stakeholders are then also able to implement the knowledge that they have gained. This process requires sensitising so that stakeholders become aware of the most issues at hand that must be considered throughout future projects or activities. This personal and professional awareness as well as sensitisation is the best outcome that an organisation can hope for from an intervention to effectively guarantee sustainability of the change.

While necessary sensitisation processes are often carried out, the knowledge and resources provided are not always properly implemented or integrated. The reasons behind this implementation gap are varied and sometimes unclear, making it difficult to quantify project impact. As a technical assistance program, Sudridh-NURP is constantly adapting to the needs and demands of the municipalities in which it operates in an effort to ensure activities and interventions have a tangible impact.

One such intervention that promises valuable impact once fully in effect is the mainstreaming of Risk and Inclusion Sensitive Land Use Planning (RISLUP) into higher education. Actively raising awareness of risk and inclusion in land use planning, sensitising students to these concepts and building their skills to tackle these issues, these future engineers, planners, architects will be able to incorporate these concepts in future urban planning work.

The Situation

“Inclusion is a very abstract concept,” says Dr. Inu Pradhan Salikhe, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at the Institute of Engineering (IOE). “And there is no connectivity between land use planning and inclusion. The usual trend is that you plan first and then think about inclusion.”

The concept of Risk Sensitive Land Use Planning (RSLUP) is, in itself, not new. RSLUP has been researched and used worldwide in conversations about resilience in urban planning. The focus on risk sensitivity while planning for land use has become crucial in recent times given the trends in rapid urbanisation in developing countries coupled with the inevitable toll of climate change. In the urban cities of Nepal, which are often referred to as chaotic concrete jungles, proper land use planning is often lacking.

In a universally accepted land use plan, a definite land use is assigned to every land plot and thus, people wanting to build houses, for instance, can only do so in the sites specified for residency. But in Nepal, the sale and possession of land typically comes before the planning, wherein the land becomes a personal property, to be used according to the wishes of the owner. This is why our urban spaces are not properly managed, often lack access to even the most basic of services and from an aesthetic point of view, can be visibly displeasing.

“From our home research, we found that there is a lot of chatter around economic and social development in planning, but there is hardly any on spatial development,” says Dr. Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, former Vice-Chairman of the National Planning Commission of Nepal and the current Chairman of Nepal Institute of Urban and Regional Studies (NIURS). NIURS is a research organisation that has led and championed the integration of RISLUP into higher education.

Dr. Pokharel adds, “In the 60s or the 70s, there was no mention of disaster planning, or inclusion and resilience or climate change. These are very new but important concepts that need to be thoroughly understood.”

RSLUP has been an essential part of NURP since its inception and resilience against disaster has been one of its core objectives. But as NURP and its goals have evolved, so has the concept of RSLUP.

“Our point of entry didn’t remain disaster risk reduction but changed to local economic development for enhanced resilience,” says Dr. Ajay Lal, the technical expert behind the development of RISLUP in NURP. “We brought inclusion into local level development. Inclusion has to be embedded in every activity. It is our value.”

The questions that NURP asked as it aged is centred on how to integrate inclusion in economic and infrastructure resilience as well as local governance. How can inclusion be a thriving component in planning? How do we increase access to infrastructure for marginalised and disenfranchised groups? How do we involve those that are the most affected by disasters, those that are the most vulnerable?

It is, in fact, a striking truth that the devastating earthquake of 2015 in Nepal was most detrimental to women, senior citizens, people with disabilities, children, LGBTQ and marginalised communities[1], both in its immediate aftermath and during post-disaster reconstruction. So, it becomes imperative that the investments that are made in infrastructure in order to build the capacities of an economy need to focus on inclusion. Thus, with the important addition of inclusivity in risk-sensitive land use planning, the term Risk and inclusion sensitive land use plan, or RISLUP, was coined.

RISLUP prepared by NURP for Butwal, Janakpurdham and Pokhara

“We had never thought about bringing inclusion in land use planning before” adds Dr. Lal. “Even our Constitution talks about inclusion, albeit from a political point of view. It is a new dimension in urban planning.”

“There is a lack of sensitisation among current planners about social inclusion,” says Dr. Pokharel. “Sometimes, they are aware but choose to ignore it just for their ease. Even in something as basic as the ToRs, the focus is mainly on delivering the physical outputs. There is usually no mention of social inclusion there.”

The amalgamation of inclusion and risk in urban land use planning is important as it focuses on improving disaster resilience and preparedness among vulnerable communities, reducing the economic cost of disaster management, and recovering and reducing the loss of human lives, all while supporting physical infrastructure, the economy, and the environment.

RISLUP is a unique concept and an important document drafted by the targeted municipalities through the support from NURP that needs to be incorporated into the current land use plans, policies, and legislature. But in a country like Nepal, where land is a private property, and landowners are prioritised above the land and surrounding infrastructure, it is difficult to convey the importance of risk sensitivity and inclusion from the start of the process, especially when it could increase bureaucratic checklists. Thus, the gaps in endorsement and enforcement of RISLUP as a part of the municipal-level land use planning remain.

The Change

“RISLUP will only become a normal practice if the idea of RISLUP is formally integrated in academic training”, says Dr. Lal. “We are all aware about inclusion, but we are not sensitive. Even the plans designed by women are sometimes not women friendly. Future planners should be sensitive about inclusive land use planning. They are not yet, and our faulty education system is partly to blame for that.”

On the back of this understanding and in an effort to ensure effective RISLUP implementation, one of the interventions that NURP initiated in its third year was the integration of RISLUP as a module in master’s degree programme for universities that offered urban and city planning, disaster management and other courses that come within the realm of urban planning, regional planning, and disaster risk management. The expected outcome from this rigorous module is to expose students to understanding the concepts and theories behind risk, inclusion and land use planning, its processes, tools, and best practices. The students, after taking this course, are expected to have a greater ability to not only articulate RISLUP in their professional practices, but also understand why this is beneficial and should be incorporated in daily practice. A form of this course is also available as a training module so that not only educational institutions, but also vocational training institutes can take the education of RISLUP forward.

NURP supported NIURS in organising various collaborative brainstorming and consultation workshops with experts from the fields of urban planning and public policy, academics, and the private sector in order to validate RISLUP as a relevant and substantial master’s degree module. A part of the brainstorming and consultation process also included the review of available resources, such as the syllabus of selected urban and regional planning courses offered at international and national universities on land use planning, disaster risk reduction, resilient city planning, and so on, along with the review of relevant national policy documents on urban development, land use planning, disaster risk management and other urban planning practices. This helped identify the gaps in the academic syllabi in Nepali universities and the national level policies which separated risk and inclusion from the planning process. In this way, the team developed solid course content for recommended inclusion in degrees along with possible ways to mainstream the concepts across academia and professional training.

A glimpse from the Final Dissemination Workshop on the Masters-level RISLUP module

Analysis

“What the RISLUP module does is bring all those disparate ideas of land use planning and inclusion together”, says Dr. Salikhe. “First and foremost, students will be more sensible and sensitive. Secondly, they will have the know-how to incorporate the aspects of risk and inclusion in urban planning. Being sensitised alone is also not enough. And finally, they will be able to aid proper implementation through better planning proposals.”

Following a similar sentiment, Dr. Pokharel adds, “There are two different demographics that need to be sensitised through the RISLUP module. First, the current batch of students and second, the current planners (and former students) who are formally a part of the labour force. The former will receive the knowledge through the module taught as a part of their master’s course, whereas the latter will have to be trained to understand the concept of RISLUP and incorporate it in professional practice. Thus, it is not enough to include RISLUP as an academic module. It should also be circulated as a training module.”

The intention of this intervention is to teach students about risk-sensitivity and inclusion through a well-designed subject from teachers and experts from various fields, such as GESI, disaster management, urban planning, etc, such that a holistic learning process can be created.

“People know about various urban problems, like the slums or the disorganised markets and housing, but they think about them as separate pieces”, says Dr. Salikhe. “But by putting inclusion in the planning process, this course will perhaps create an integrated approach to solving certain existing problems that are related to planning.”

But this sort of integration does not come without its challenges.

“In terms of practical exposure” – ruminates Dr. Salikhe aloud – “it might be difficult to find easily accessible case studies and best practices about RISLUP in the context of Nepal.”

“We want students to deliver” – relays Dr. Pokharel. “But the challenge is that there is neither a standard nor a manual for RISLUP. Neither is RISLUP universalised nor is it standardised. So, it is perhaps difficult to translate the learnings into practice.”

Indeed, it is essential to note that the problems of mainstreaming RISLUP into higher education closely correlates with the integration of RISLUP into the available land use plans and concerned legislature.

“The main challenge with RISLUP, right now, is in its implementation as a land use plan” says Dr. Lal. “NURP has handed over the necessary resources to the municipalities, now it is upon them to take it further.”

But there has been no action for implementation yet – not for RISLUP and not even for LUP.

There is an inevitable possibility that despite the sensitisation of the future land planners to RISLUP through rigorous and formal academic training, the available land use plans remain unimplemented. Thus, the segment in the course curriculum which entails receiving practical knowledge from real-life case studies from Nepal might not be useful if there are no successful cases to show. In this case, the academic training provided through the course could be unsuccessful in strengthening the practical knowledge seen through real-life situations, in which case the course threatens to become more theoretical.

“There are and will always be gaps between academia and implementation” – agrees Dr. Salikhe. “This is true not only for Nepal but everywhere. But on the brighter side, we, at IOE, receive students every year who are working in the government sector. So that bridge between planning and implementation might be reduced if the possible future policy makers are also a marked part of the learning process.”

Furthermore, with much talk about inclusion, at present this module is only limited to students of urban planning. The design of the current curriculum excludes those with dissimilar degrees interested in learning about the topic. But given the technical requirement of this course, such exclusion might be necessary since one of the prerequisites of applying to this course is the foreknowledge of GIS and related planning tools. Those interested in courses other than urban planning might not be adept at using the required tools, but still the concept of risk and inclusion sensitivity can be cross-cutting to other sectors.

“There is always the possibility of organising seminars, learning and sharing events that might be useful in other fields.” says Dr. Pokharel when asked about the expansibility of the current course.

But the value-added from this course cannot be ignored. The potential of mass sensitisation from such academic training will, nevertheless, prepare the planners, designers, engineers, and architects to draft designs including the attributes of risk sensitivity and inclusion. From a micro point of view, the impact of having a course on risk and inclusion sensitive land use planning is large as the expectation still remains that the future urban land planners will design their clients’ or their own space of land by incorporating factors of risk and inclusion. The hope for sensitisation remains, no matter how minimal, at least slowly moving the dial to ensure future implementation.

A glimpse from the Final Dissemination Workshop on the Masters-level RISLUP module

Lessons and Recommendations

But with the integration of such an important concept into academic training, is it practical to expect behavioural change in the future?

And the answers from the designers and future adopters of RISLUP as a higher education course module is not entirely optimistic.

“It is too early to say whether there will be a behavioural change” – says Dr. Salikhe. “This module works from a performance objective. Being able to plan for risk-sensitivity and inclusion is more about skills than behaviour. But for a behavioural change to occur, it will take a long time.”

“Sensitisation is perhaps the first step towards behavioural change” thinks Dr. Pokharel. “But planning is only a small part of that entire process. Sometimes, even if the planner is sensitised, the outcome may not prosper. Not everything depends on the planner. So, the question now remains, how do we sensitise an entire system?”

The curriculum of RISLUP is designed in a way that is subject to timely revisions as a part of continuous learning as NURP has learned through the years that the only way one can make an impact is through constant practice of rediscovery and programmatic adaptation. The journey from RSLUP to RISLUP is one such example of learning through professional practice. And now with mainstreaming of RISLUP into higher education, NURP will support in building capacities of current and future urban planners.

There is also a potential that through this intervention, NURP will be supporting the training of teachers who will be responsible for teaching the students – the future urban planners of the country. In a way, the students who take the course as well as the teachers who will give the course will become a part of the participatory process through a continuous exchange of knowledge. In a way, in the future there is one more possible level of support that can be provided by NURP. This, along with providing the technical support to design the course and help run it, aids to the dual approach to sensitisation, ensuring ability to implement and sustainability.

“There will be an evaluation at the end of the course, and we will see what worked and what did not. This learning is an evolving process” says Dr. Pokharel, in his final statement. “And hopefully in the future, there’ll be quite a few professions sensitised about risk and inclusion and skilled to design land use plans through the lens of risk and inclusion.”

The first-ever course on RISLUP recently went on floors at the Institute of Engineering (IOE) where future urban planners, engineers and architects received both theoretical knowledge on risk-sensitivity and inclusion in land use planning and practical field experience from visits to Pokhara and Tillottama.

This is just the beginning. A hopeful potential for the future would be if this course or similar courses about risk and inclusion sensitive land use planning is adopted across every university in the country. And without being limited only to urban planning, the concept of risk and inclusion could also be expanded to other fields, making it a more cross cutting theme.

“This change needs to be strengthened further,” says Dr. Lal, finally. “Risk and inclusion sensitivity can be transferred into other plans as well.”

As the Land Use Act (2019) and Land Use Regulation (2022), both complementary to the Land Use Policy (2015), have recently been issued in Nepal, the future seems hopeful for urban land planners. The gaps in their implementation still exist, so only time will tell whether with hopeful aspirants inculcating the theory and practice of risk and inclusion sensitive land use through academic training, the concepts of risk and inclusion will become an involved part of urban planning and not just an addendum, and whether with the legal system behind to support them, there will in fact be a behavioural change in making risk and inclusion land use planning a household name through its mainstreaming into higher education.

[1] Post Disaster Needs Assessment. Vol. B: Sector Reports. (2015) National Planning Commission, Government of Nepal.

https://www.npc.gov.np/images/category/PDNA_volume_BFinalVersion.pdf