Future Proofing and Indian City: Lessons from Madurai

Case Summary: 

Madurai is a city in the South of India built on the banks of the river Vaigai with a population of about 1.5 million people. Due to the city’s location and geography it is vulnerable to extreme weather events. As weather events have worsened due to climate change more attention is being paid at the national and local level to “future proof” the city.

Of high interest is the city’s “blue” and “green” infrastructure. Blue infrastructure refers to water management infrastructure; this includes distributing clean drinking water, managing sewage, and draining storm water during the rainy season. Green infrastructure refers to the city’s publicly managed spaces that include parks and riverbanks. Historically, Madurai has had difficulty managing the storm water and rainy season floods due to trash that coalesces throughout the city to form blockages in the drainage system. It is viewed that both blue and green infrastructure management upgrades are needed.

As part of the future proofing of Madurai more responsibility was given to the local governments. Rather than a top-down approach the national government of India first educated and then mobilized local efforts to find solutions to blue and green infrastructure upgrades. This resulted in several lessons-learned for the future proofing program which is of international concern. Lessons include:

  • Building social capital. The national government built local movements by providing data and sponsoring outreach activities. One of the most successful of these were “water walks” where community members could walk and talk with community leaders. These walks introduced citizens to blue and green infrastructure such as waterways and storage tanks. These walks were attributed with generating several of the most innovative design solutions.
  • Building financing with local management. To build confidence among the local banks and international community to support project finance locally managed trust funds were established. The Vaigai River Restoration trust engaged residents to apply for international funding while partnering with the local government to provide programmatic oversight.
  • Providing data to non-technical audiences. Data was collected and then formatted to be available to as many residents as possible which included best practices and engagement opportunities. It was deemed by the program administrators that “enough” data was needed, meaning neither too much nor too little data, to encourage action. Examples of data formats included maps and graphics that could help those without a technical background understand the program’s goals.
  • Building a shared vision. The city of Madurai has a diverse group of stakeholders. By building diverse platforms for engagement a shared vision of the future of Madurai was built. This resulted in six theme areas that were awarded funding to outside parties to build infrastructure that all stakeholders agreed on.
South Asia
Action Area 
Planning and Implementation Activity 
Developing Strategies and Plans, Developing and Implementing Policies and Measures, Governance and Stakeholder Engagement, Linking with the Sustainable Development Goals, Financing Implementation, National Adaptation Plans, Long-Term Strategies
Sectors and Themes 
Disaster Risk Reduction, Poverty, Water
Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)
Sign-up for the NDC Partnership monthly newsletter and receive updates on country work, upcoming events, resources, and more.