How can the Building with Nature approach contribute to coastal and flood safety projects?

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What happens when thirty coastal engineers and coastal researchers in Indonesia are challenged with complementing or even replacing the conventional means of coastal protection by Building with Nature solutions?

On Tuesday, 8 May 2018, over 30 staff from the Ministry of Public Works and Housing (PUPR) participated in this discussion, inspired by lectures from the research department of PUPR, the Brawijaya University of Malang, knowledge institute Deltares and engineering company Witteveen+Bos.

As Building with Nature utilizes ecosystem services, it can create opportunities for nature, economy and society. In a time when hydraulic engineers face the challenge to make designs that are sustainable, cost effective and adaptable to changing conditions, this sounds very appealing. However, at first some ambiguity about Building with Nature had to be overcome. It appeared that there were many questions about the science behind Building with Nature and its engineering potential.

So far, Indonesian coastal engineers are often only familiar with Building with Nature by the establishment of permeable structures in front of the coastline to halt coastal erosion and rehabilitate mangroves. This Building with Nature technique is currently applied in Demak. Besides in rural mangrove coast, the Building with Nature approach is applicable to any (infrastructural) project in any (hydraulic) system, and hence can be applied in multiple settings, including in sandy shores, urban settings, ports and reef environments.

A major eye-opener was that Building with Nature is a reiterative process and not a fixed design. The process includes steps which combinedly outline a creative process and can be followed in any phase of the project’s realisation process. This process challenges engineers to think, act and interact differently while designing hydraulic infrastructure.

Clarity was provided about the importance of thorough understanding of the landscape and the system, from a bio-physical, socio-economical and institutional perspective, and how this is done in practice. Building with Nature also offers tools such as methods, frameworks and numerical models that can be used in different phases and steps of a BwN project. For instance, evaluation techniques can be used to assess different solutions. While these can turn out to be traditional solutions, generally additional functions, services and benefits are identified which influence the project design. Eka Nugraha Abdi, from Central Sulawesi: “The approach helps to make decisions and sort out what should be done or not for a project.”

Bringing their new knowledge into practice, the group applied the approach to their own existing coastal projects dealing with actual coastal issues. They incorporated new functions, services and benefits into traditional solutions for the conservation of a beach in Bali, the protection of the eroding coral island Bokoro near Kendari in Central Sulawesi and the toll road which is proposed in Semarang-Demak in Central Java.

As if that wasn’t enough of a successful outcome, it was suggested that the Building with Nature approach should be fully integrated in the processes within the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, responsible for spatial planning, water management and public infrastructure. Leo Sembiring, head of the research department in Bali recommended to prepare a standard curriculum for the topic of Building with Nature so that it becomes a training material at the Ministry of PUPR, and that all consultants hired by PUPR should be provided with tools to help them identify Building with Nature solutions in different systems.

Blog by Tom Wilms, Witteveen+Bos and Amrit Cado van der Lelij, Deltares

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