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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 32, July 27, 2013

The Survival of Humanity is at Stake

Sunday 28 July 2013

by T. Sadashivam

The issue of Development versus Environment has again come in the public discourse because of the Uttarakhand tragedy. Although the debate over development versus environment has been there since the past many decades, what added a new dimension to it was a term called ‘Climate Change’. According to the World Bank, a ‘climate change is a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity, a change that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is a change in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’. (Sadashivam, T. 2010) Now, the debate centres around human beings-development-environment-climate change, the last one is also described as ‘Global Warming’.

Climate change is not new to humanity, it has been there in the past also as a gradual process, naturally there is change and fluctuation and hence it is not much noticeable. (Sada-shivam2010a) But, the climate change which can be called a climate change revolution in present times is much easily noticeable and its impact has been very negative for the whole humanity and emerged as one of the most important global challenges. The main reason has been exploitation of nature in an unlimited manner in various forms for development, which has disturbed our environment more often than not and led to climate change. Whether the recent Uttarakhand tragedy happened because of climate change or not is a question which is going around among the policy-makers, scientists, academicians and common people. However, regardless of what all the stakeholders in our society believe, the fact is that the recent tragedy happened because of human greed to exploit the nature. The present article discusses some observations made during the Uttarakhand tragedy and offers, at the end, some suggestions or what needs to be done to minimise any disaster related to climate change.

Unfortunate Uttarakhand Tragedy

The south-west monsoon this year (2013) came earlier than expected and brought joy in the faces of the people who were facing a hot summer, especially in the northern States of India. But this was not the case in Uttarakhand. On June 17, 2013, the heavy, 340mm record rainfall registered in Dehradun and similar extreme rainfall in many places of Uttarakhand (Badri-nath, Kedarnath, Uttarkashi etc.), led to landslips and heavy floods. Still there is no authentic data on how many people died, how many were missing, injured, property loss etc. But, one thing every person in the country who watched the TV news channel has seen—how the river water swept away like a monster a number of buildings, vehicles along the banks. The callous attitude of the Uttarakhand State Government can be seen from the officials sitting in Dehradun, the State capital, not knowing for two days exactly what the real impact of extreme rainfall was on the people (pilgrims and residents) in places like Badrinath, Kedarnath etc. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said that they did issue routine warnings about the possibility of heavy rains to the Uttarakhand State. But it is unclear if the warnings were acted upon with alacrity and disseminated promptly by the State authorities or not. (The Hindu 2013) Although people in a place called Srinagar have complained that there was no warning from the administration side; otherwise many lives and property could have been saved.

During this time of disaster when everybody was praying for the safety of the people, that was not the case with some of our political parties. And instead of helping the authorities in rescue and relief operations, the political parties tried to take political mileage from it. A good example was the altercation between the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Congress leaders at Uttarakhand over the Andhra pilgrims and who would get credit for taking the people out of the jaws of death. The same was the case with the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in their war of words on twitter, leaders from both parties criticising each other over the issue of the tragedy. Also, lack of coordination between the Centre and State governments was seen in the initial period; with such coordination many lives and property could have been saved. Again the issue of regional aspirations came to the forefront rather than the question of national unity, with some State governments (Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh) wanting to carry out individual rescue operations for the people belonging to their States. It shows that national unity is missing, a wrong signal at the time of disaster, where human life is more important rather than which caste, religion, region, language etc. a person belongs to.

The Prime Minister of India’s appeal to the people of India to donate generously towards the Uttarakhand tragedy for the welfare of the people affected by floods and landslips, did not generate much enthusiasm among the public except in a few cases. Why is it that we have become so materialistic as to forget to help our brothers and sisters who are in need and and did not come out to voluntarily donate according to our capacity towards the victims of the Uttarakhand tragedy? The governments alone can’t do everything, the public also need to extend support.

On the other hand on June 19, 2013, Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management released a World Wealth Report 2013, in which it was stated that India clocked the second best at 22.2 per cent growth in the world in its population of High-Networth Individuals (HNIs) or those with $1 million or more in investible assets in the 2012 calendar year. The investible assets mean wealth which excludes the value of personal assets and property like primary residences, collectibles, consumables and consumer durables. (Business Standard 2013)The rich people, industrialists, entrepreneurs, businessmen in particular in our country should voluntarily contribute some-thing towards the benefit of victims, that can go a long way in their rehabilitation and starting a new life. Although money is not everything, where the people have lost their dear ones it is very difficult to forget them and start a new life. But, it is a reality, human life is a cycle which needs to be run for which initial support from others can go a long way in helping them start life again. There exists valid apprehension in the minds of the people that if one donates something, would it go to the beneficiary directly or not. This fear is correct but for the larger goal, that is, helping the human beings who want some kind of help, we need to take that risk too.

The other observation is related to focusing only on rescue and relief operations for the human beings who are stranded in areas affected by floods and landslips. But what about animals, nobody has talked about them and shown concern for them. Are they are not a part of our society?

Suggestions to Cope with Climate Change

Some suggestions have been given below which may look to be very idealistic for many. But it is a fact that ten years ago nobody thought that Arctic glaciers will be melting with such rapidity as today; however at present that is the reality.

a) As part of this society, every individual can reduce his/ her carbon footprints by acting smartly in doing the daily activities. For example, judiciously using water and conserving rainwater; conserving electricity by using energy efficient appliances and turning off appliances when not in use; spreading awareness among other people, most importantly among relatives and friends, can go a long way in reducing carbon footprints. Also, people like to secure the future for themselves and for their children by taking various insurance policies/schemes, then why not go for insurance from climate change, by following the sustainable path as mentioned above.

b) The government is spending so much on defence to save the people and territory from outside aggressors. Then, what about the security of life and property from the threat of climate change or nature, which is emerging as great danger for humanity and nobody knows in what form and how extreme it will be. Even spending one portion of the defence budget for developing or doing Research and Develop-ment (R&D) regarding how to build sustainable development in various sectors in the society can go long way in mitigating the effect of and tackling climate change.

c) The people who are directly affected by climate change in any form should be encouraged, given training and appointed as ambassadors so as to spread the awareness among other people regarding the impact of climate change. Especially, making people ambassadors of a particular region they belong to, will help in propagating awareness among the people more effectively explaining in a more lucid manner in their own language.

d) The government should not make any uniform policy for climate change; rather different policies and programmes related to mitigation of the effects of and tacking climate change should be evolved and these need to be local specific. For example, the rules for construction activities in mountain areas will be different from those in plain areas; in the same way in the forest areas and in banks of river etc. Here the roles of Central, State governments and local self- governments are very important, as there should be coordination among them at every level of policy-making, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programmes related to climate change. If possible, create a new independent climate change department or set it up under the Ministry of Environment in both Central and State levels.

e) The people living in sensitive areas of the country, where the climate change impact can be more, can take insurance policy for themselves and their property with the help of the government. For example, the State Bank of India (SBI)’s saving bank account holders will need to pay Rs 100 annually for the SBI’s Accidental Insurance where a person can claim up to 4,00,000 rupees in case of accident. Similarly a small amount of say Rs 50 or 100 annually can be charged from the people who are above poverty line and for those below the poverty line (BPL), the governments can contribute. Although, people have insured their lives and property, but they are much less in numbers and insurance is beyond the reach of the poor people, who will be hardest hit by climate change which has been pointed out by the World Bank also in many of its reports. There will be more droughts, hot summers, poor food production, severe flooding and tropical cyclones because of climate change in South Asia including India reported by the recent World Bank report on ‘Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience 2013. The report has also said that an extremely wet monsoon, that at present has a chance of occurring only once in 100 years, is projected to occur every 10 years by the end of this century. (Daily News and Analysis 2013) In this situation, climate change insurance should be done and all the insurance companies can add the subject of climate change in their insurance policies.

To conclude, climate change has emerged as one of the most formidable challenges for the governments all over the world including India. In our country, the impact of climate change will be more because of the population living in sensitive areas and, more importantly, its impact on agriculture, which is one of the most vital sectors of our economy and also for the majority of people’s livelihood. At the same time increasing economic growth and removing poverty and inequality in our society will be a problem, because of climate change. We have to devise methods, strategies etc. seriously for mitigation of and adaptation to climate change and this is the right time to do so. The Uttarakhand tragedy may or may not have opened our eyes, but it depends on participation of every stakeholder in society towards minimising climate change and providing a safe and secure life for ourselves and also for our future generations.

References

Business Standard (2013), “India still shining for the super-rich”, June 20, Thursday. Source: http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/india-still-shining-for-the-super-rich-1130620000751.htm, accessed on June 20, 2013.

Daily News and Analysis (2013), “World Bank says India in for big climate change”, June 20, Thursday. Source: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/1850423/report-world-bank-says-india-in-for-big-climate-change, accessed on June 20, 2013.

Sadashivam, T. (2010), “Climate Change and Rural Development: The Challenge for Agricultural Dynamics”, International Journal of Rural Studies, vol.17, no.2, October, England and Uttar Pradesh, p.21.

Sadashivam (2010a), “Climate Change and its Impact: A Key challenge for Humanity”, University News- A Weekly Journal of Higher Education, vol. 48, no. 25, June 21-27, New Delhi, p. 19.

The Hindu (2013), ”A Himalayan Tragedy”, 21st June, Friday. Source: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-himalayan-tragedy/article4834420.ece, accessed on July 1, 2013.

The author is an Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Pachhunga University College (only constituent college of Mizoram‘s Central University), Aizawl (Mizoram).

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