WRI India worked with Kochi’s local government to establish urban forests in flood- and heat-prone areas of the city. These green spaces are building communities’ resilience to the impacts of climate change, creating employment opportunities and improving quality of life.

The Challenge

Kochi, India is a growing financial and industrial hub that is home to 6.5 million people. Because the city sits less than 5 meters above sea level, it is particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion, flooding and other climate-induced hazards.

Meanwhile, declining green space is exacerbating these issues and increasing local temperatures.  WRI estimated that 31% of Kochi's population is regularly exposed to temperatures above 86 degrees F (30 degrees C) and about 26% live within flood plains.

WRI’s Role

For several years, WRI India and the Cities4Forests initiative have provided on-the-ground action and policy support to Kochi Municipal Corporation (KMC), the local government, in building climate resilience. One key project is the Kawaki initiative, established in 2021.

Through Kawaki, which means “to make a grove” in Malayalam, WRI India, KMC and local communities worked together to establish urban forests to reduce extreme heat and floods. Urban trees cool the surrounding air, mitigate urban heat island effect, hold soil in place to prevent erosion, and increase water absorption to alleviate flood risks.

WRI India took a rigorous, science-based approach to the Kawaki program. It started by hosting participatory “mapathons” with local “citizen scientists” to map the city’s existing green space, identify areas where trees could be planted, and overlay areas also experiencing high heat and flood risks. Using the Urban Community Resilience Assessment tool, WRI surveyed more than 600 households across four communities to assess climate adaptation needs, vulnerabilities and capacities.

WRI staff held trainings with local community groups to prepare land, plant trees and nurture them as they grew. Many citizens now receive wages for their tree-planting and maintenance work through an employment program run by the local government.  WRI India also helped develop the Guidance Document for Resilience Planning, which supports nature-based solutions for climate adaptation.

The Outcome

Community members have planted numerous urban forests throughout Kochi as part of the Kawaki initiative, and the program continues to expand. Urban trees are reducing extreme heat, lowering flood risks, providing employment for unskilled laborers and creating recreational areas in the city. In 2022, Kochi included Kawaki in its municipal budget, further cementing the program’s long-term future in city resilience efforts.

The KMC Council and Town Planning Committee also formally adopted the Guidance Document for Resilience Planning and included it in the Kochi City Master Plan 2040, setting the stage for more nature-based solutions in Kochi and other cities throughout India. By embracing nature-based solutions like the Kawaki initiative, Kochi is shifting its approach to floods and heat from one focused on rescue and recovery to long-term preparedness and resilience planning.