Mani Dhingra: ‘Sustainability to me is an attitude and way of life’
Name: Mani Dhingra
Lives in: Kharagpur, West Bengal
Country of origin: India
Period in Germany: September, 2013 to March, 2014
Educational institution: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Occupation: Research Scholar (pursuing PhD from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, India)
After a DAAD scholarship at the research unit ‘Urban Housing and Development’ of the Institute ‘Entwerfen von Stadt und Landschaft’ (ISEL) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) Mani Dhingra received her ‘Master of City Planning’ from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur in the year 2014. She has worked as a Research Associate at advanced research institute, Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe) in New Delhi for a year on climate change and sustainable development in India and across the world. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD from Department of Architecture and Regional Planning, IIT Kharagpur focusing on traditional Indian cities to understand how sustainable the old settlements in India are.
Ms. Dhingra, the United Nations recently adopted a set of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ to open a pathway into a sustainable future within the next 15 years. Do you think we will succeed?
Mani Dhingra: These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the next step after UN‘s Millennium Development Goals whose patchy results are not achieved as targeted till year 2015. SDGs seem more like an old wine in a new bottle but with more ambitious targets of eliminating gender inequality, hunger and poverty by 2030. The question whether SDGs will be successful to attain its target of universal sustainability is quite pressing if its vast ambitious scope is considered. However, the explicit inclusion of developing countries for commitment and making progress in this direction is a plus point.
You know the situation in Germany as well as in India. Regarding the challenges we are facing: What are the main differences between the situation in India and Germany?
Mani Dhingra: The situation in Germany and India has contrasting challenges when it comes to sustainability. India is still lacking the common awareness amongst its public about the environmental and social issues which the world is facing whereas in Germany the things are on a better side. They have already taken a leap to achieve sustainable development by going carbon free cities. The scale of planning in German cities takes place at micro level neighborhood units which makes the execution of plans successful, while in India the bottom up approach is yet to gain popularity at individual level.
Poverty reduction needs strong attention
Which challenges need to be tackled first and foremost – especially in India?
Mani Dhingra: The foremost challenge India is facing is its increasing demand of energy and access to clean energy and water. With the increasing pace of development and changing lifestyle, the per capita energy requirement has increased drastically. Also there are rural areas in India who are not even electrified and use kerosene and firewood as fuel source. Besides social challenges of skill development and poverty reduction needs strong attention.
In the big cities, foremost New Delhi and Mumbai, traffic pollutions are one of the biggest environmental problems. Do you see a realistic chance to solve it?
Mani Dhingra: Metropolitan cities such as New Delhi and Mumbai with its vast population and increasing number of vehicles on roads are definitely facing the challenge of air pollution. Government and NGOs are spearing hard to reduce the congestion with the help of efficient public transportation and cleaner fuel. Delhi metro and CNG are such an example. Integrating urban functions and transit in India can definitely give better results by reducing the total trips generated and enhancing the walkability in the cities.
Another, perhaps even more urgent problem is the access to clean water. What solutions do you see in this regard – especially for your country?
Mani Dhingra: A very essential solution to issue of access to clean water in India is generating awareness among people regarding wastage and storage of potable water. Innovative practices at local level such as water reuse through grey water treatment facilities and rain water harvesting should be explored.
Adaption strategies become extremely important
Even if the global efforts should be more or less successful: Climate Change is already taking place. What about societal adaption strategies? Do you deal with such questions in your work?
Mani Dhingra: Definitely with the global issue of climate change India is one of the worst affected countries in terms of natural disasters and food security. Most of its population is poor and vulnerable to impacts of climate change. In such a situation, adaptation strategies at societal level become extremely important. These questions are very much dealt with in our work. For instance, for a study pertaining to shift of apple belt in Himalayan region due to climate change, the local adaptation measures such as switching to other cash fruit crops as well as other varieties of apples were explored with a strong consultation with local farmers in the region.
Let’s talk about ‘Green Buildings’ and ‘Green Cities’. What are the demands of sustainable architecture and urban planning in our days and in the future?
Mani Dhingra: ‘Green’ is a buzz word which is nowadays attached to our buildings as well as cities in India especially with initiatives like GRIHA (Green Rating for Integrated Habitat Assessment) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). It is definitely important to understand and implement sustainable practices in architecture and urban planning so that a healthy living environment is achieved which is energy efficient and self-sustaining in long run. At the same time, it is important to understand the inherent sustainability of indigenous practices and build on them for a strong future.
Finally, a personal question: What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you personally, and how does it affect your everyday live?
Mani Dhingra: Sustainability to me is an attitude and way of life. It is how we would like to hand over the world to our next generation. It is a very crucial part of my daily life which starts with taking a bicycle to work and using well-lit spaces for my daily activities. It does not mean doing great things in one day but rather is a mix of simple things such as switching off power when not in use, segregating organic and inorganic waste and careful consumption of water and energy.