Kochi is the commercial capital of Kerala and the second biggest city on the Western Coast of India. Due to its coastal location and network of backwaters, Kochi is vulnerable to sea level rise, increased precipitation, and flooding. The most prominent reasons for the Kerala floods of 2018 are the mismanagement of water and diminishing green cover. The conservation of urban forests, wetlands, and water edge-management takes on the important role of supporting biodiversity and the fight climate change. With major developments in the city, there is a need to strike a balance between development and the environment. Tackling urban heat and heat islands is a crucial component of the sustainability plan, and Kochi City is looking forward to being part of Cities4Forests and adopting strategies to create healthier, livable, and prosperous urban areas.
“Kochi Municipal Corporation will ensure that climate resilience will be a key pillar on which all future development projects be planned, designed and implemented. Urban grooves and forests are part of Kochi’s rich heritage and culture. Through the Cities4Forests initiative, we will ensure the creation of more green spaces in the city and conserve the existing green patches through ensured public participation. Inner forests like Manganavanom and green spaces like Subash Park are an integral part of Kochi and act as the lungs of the city. They are part of the city’s rich heritage and culture, and hence protecting and conserving them will be of prime importance as far as the city authorities are concerned”
Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation
The unique ecosystem of the coastal city of Kochi, with its backwaters, estuaries and natural ponds is home to a huge biodiverse habitat. The urban grooves and mangroves of Kochi, in addition to being a part of the city’s cultural and natural heritage, is also of huge economic importance to the local communities. The inner forest, Mangalavanam which is spread across almost an area of 3 hectares in heart of the city alone is one gigantic biodiversity hotspot
Despite all this, the natural heritage of Kochi is under threat due to the rapid urbanization and associated change in land-use patterns. Understanding the importance of forests & green spaces in urban areas, the city authorities have undertaken a number of initiatives to conserve its natural heritage. Kochi has prepared a Biodiversity Register initiated by the State Biodiversity Board, which aims to mainstream and integrate biodiversity conservation and management into the planning process at the national, sub-national, and local levels. Kochi city is a beneficiary of several infrastructure projects under the national “Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation.” Parks and green spaces constitute a component of this initiative. Kochi is also preparing an Environment handbook for students and other stakeholders for better awareness of biodiversity and the importance of urban green spaces. The city is developing more public spaces into parks and converting existing parks into biodiversity hotspots. The city is also introducing programs to conserve its natural heritage like the rain trees of fort Kochi.
Under the Cities4Forests initiative, Kochi is implementing the Kawaki project where micro-urban grooves are being developed with community support in heat and flood-affected areas across the city, which increases the green cover, provides relief to the urban heat, and creates micro-sinks for better percolation of flood water. The city also developed a guidance document for climate resilient development in Kochi, that focuses on nature-based solutions like development of urban green spaces as one of the key strategies to be adopted by the city authorities as long term climate action.
How Kawaki Forests (Micro Urban Grooves) Are Being Developed in Pockets Across the City
Kochi was the first Indian city to join the Cities4Forests initiative. The city, which is highly vulnerable to natural disasters, identifies nature-based solutions as a key strategy to develop long-term climate resilience. Creating urban forests reduces the heat stress and acts as a natural sink to flood water, and provides recreational spaces for the urban public. However, the limited revenue land, high population density, and rapid urbanization lead to minimal space for the creation of urban green spaces.
The Kawaki project was launched aiming to create a people’s movement to create micro urban grooves in as many pockets in the city as possible. Kaw-aki, which means to “create urban grooves,” is a program launched by Kochi city which invites public and private stakeholders to provide space, even small parcels of land, where micro-urban grooves will be developed and maintained by the city. The program has received mass acceptance from the city stakeholders and many Kawaki forests have been developed across the city. The Kawaki program got integrated into city’s other sustainable development programs and is getting scaled up with the support of city and state-level stakeholders including Suchitwa mission, Haritha Kerala mission, and Ayyangaly urban employment program. As of 2022, over 15 Kawaki forests exist in Kochi city.