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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 29, July 15, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, July 15, 2023

Saturday 15 July 2023


Northern India has been battered by heavy rains, causing flooding, landslides, and mudslides in the past week. The States of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, parts of Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi have been affected by these floods. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated. In our national capital, the river Yamuna has breached the danger mark, and major sections of the city’s arterial ring road are submerged under water, and so is Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi’s resting place, and famed international memorial. In a few weeks the city of Delhi is supposed to host the G-20 international summit and a thousand questions are being asked about the hick-ups the summit could face with infrastructure breakdowns. Delhi authorities say they may ration drinking water supply because numerous treatment plants are flooded. Floods are not new to India, millions of residents across umpteen urban and rural regions in India witness an annual routine of flooding and the municipal authorities in urban regions do the same habitual clean-up of stormwater drainage via the same contractors and officials who aren’t trained to think beyond what they know. When a so-called disaster situation emerges an army of disaster management & rescue blokes are called in to save lives and organise evacuations and relief camps etc. The Met department and climate experts have a circuit of their own and they speak another language and have limited ground-level connections with municipalities or with urban planners, highway developers, and architects. Urban development and infrastructure design and construction business go on as usual, without necessarily taking stock of the need to build climate-resilient and disaster-resilient structures. Stormwater drains that have been around for decades in major cities and they were designed for certain volumes, but the extreme intensity of freak rains has been dramatically raising the scale of water that doesn’t hold and evacuate smoothly via these drains. Rivers and nallahs in our cities have been contained and canalised in concrete walls and the required flood plains around the rivers have been depleting the space meant for overspill and absorption. The rivers and drains are not properly desilted reducing their holding capacity. Destructive flooding in faraway locations like India, Japan, and the United States seem separate and distinct events to us, but scientists see these as similar with more and more storms forming as a result of a warmer atmosphere, making extreme rains a frequent reality The cause of these recurring disasters isn’t just climate change it is irresponsible, ill thought human-made development. The infrastructure-building spree in environmentally sensitive Himalayan foothills has contributed big-time to the flooding and other natural disasters in that area. No real steps have been taken to place limits on such constructions or to make constructions resilient to disasters. Recent floods in Uttarakhand and Kerala or in cities like Chennai and Bengaluru should have provided major lessons for what is not to be done. Climate change experts who jet set for conferences keep making all kinds of alerts but have seemingly no say in the way highways are planned nor do they have the ears of those who run the cities. Government bureaucrats make fancy-sounding announcements at international climate conferences and play the victim card vis a vis former colonial countries and the global north. But actual management and policies of our national and local Governments hardly reflect concretely a climate adaptation plan in place for the future. The large-scale cement and concrete coverings of our cities’ surfaces have made them impermeable to water, which is a major reason behind the submergence of cities during flash rains — There have been constructions all over in what used to be flood plains of the rivers and we have covered shrunk large parts of cities’ water bodies and wetlands. Fragile Hills face highway-building sprees in the mountain regions of Himachal, Uttarakhand. The torrential rains and floods washed away about half of a 40-km national highway in Himachal, but it will be rebuilt in the same way by the builders and contractors who see these repeat disasters as a huge financial windfall for them. The re-building entrepreneurs have a rosy future ahead.

July 15, 2023 —HK

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