By Poonam I Kaushish
Q) What do Karnataka, Himachal, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Assam, Jharkhand have in common?
A) Lord Indra is playing hooky once again causing massive destruction, death and anguish as torrential rain sluices cities, villages, roads, cripples train services, shuts down airports, wrecks economy, damages crops, brings everything to a grinding halt leaving thousands homeless and Rs. 3,612 crores public property and crops damaged every year. Whoever said when it rains miseries, it pours, was dead on!
So fellow countrymen, let lose the volley of expletives as the story is the same, year in and year out with. Yesterday it was Assam, today Bengaluru is ‘jammed’ with boats,’ tomorrow Jharkhand. And yawn, so predictable is our netas response: an annual nautanki. Everyone goes through the kaam chalao stereotype motions —-All lament the crisis. Deluge and relief are freely bandied about. From Prime Minister, Chief Minster, Opposition Parties all parrot grief and vouch to help people, even announce monetary compensation etc.
Obviously, they don’t mean it. Why else would they allow unabated construction, insufficient cleaning of drains, encroachments of sprawling slums alongside rivers and streams, shoddy management of storm water drains, dug-up roads, no de-silting etc. Underscoring, a stark reality: Government’s fiasco and failure to prepare expertise in predicting rainfall intensity and its impact. Succinctly, disaster management is a disaster.
While the severity of the rains can be termed as an ‘act of God’, the mess, misery and damage is certainly man-made and mostly caused by human error. An example. Tamil Nadu has witnessed 8 severe cyclones in 13 years so one expects the national and State disaster management teams would be hands-on to tackle the emergency.
The reality: Zilch, as preparedness is non-existent. There is no clear line of communication or coordination among State agencies involved in search and rescue operations, only families checking on each other.
Questionably, does anyone care? Given that torrential rain, thunderstorms, landslides and flash floods are an annual affair specially in hill States. Why do Governments’ only prioritise floods at crises time? Why does it only react after loss of lives? Who will be held accountable? And which head will roll?
Remember, floods struck Assam and Uttarakhand last year resulting in over 50 dead and 200 missing, Kerala 2018 leaving over 500 killed and 2,23,000 living in 1568 relief camps, Gujarat 2017,Chennai 2015, Uttarakhand and Srinagar 2014, Delhi 2013 and Mumbai in 2005.
Why are long-term responses not developed to what is an annual expected problem? Why aren’t adequate arrangements made to ensure survivors don’t die of starvation, due to Administration’s ineptitude. Primarily because the aam aadmi translates into sterile statistics to be manipulated at will. Standing mute testimony to a callous and selfish polity and Administration bereft of cure and consolation. All cursing the Government!
Shockingly, the frenzy of ill thought out development has only worsened impacts of intense rainfall with most leaders unaware that Himalayan area is the least monitored region which only accentuates how vulnerable we are. In the western Himalayas there is a massive thrust in building infrastructure that has put enormous pressure on the region’s natural environment. Despite warnings of endangering the fragile mountain ecosystem, the Government has embarked on the contentious Char Dham highway project to connect four Hindu shrines in the Uttarakhand.
Alas, our preparedness to deal with calamity is as rag-tag as ever. Far from having a defence system against elemental fury, the Central and State Governments seem to be banking on hope that any future disaster would not be as destructive as the last. Think. India is the 14th most vulnerable country in the world, due to extreme weather-related events states the 2019 Global Climate Risk Index Report with floods being the most frequent disaster accounting for 52% of calamities total occurrences.
Around 40 million hectares of land is exposed to floods (12% of the country’s total land area), 76% of India’s coastline is cyclones and tsunamis prone, about 6.5 million acres of crop is submerged and more than 20 lakhs cattle heads perish. With neither the Central Disaster Management Authority nor the State Disaster Boards implementing any project properly.
Worse, it is a tell-tale of total apathy of an insensitive Administration in various States that do not spare even ecologically sensitive zones to satiate their greed thereby making them more vulnerable to climate change. Of rulers who ignore experts who in turn, blame it on lessons not learnt by successive Administrations.
Largely because flood policies are based on the assumption that flood disasters result from nature’s actions and are not man-made. Whereas, in actuality the damage is caused by human error, mainly, poor land management and myopic flood-control strategies. This was underscored by the CAG 2010 report which lamented the country’s disaster management preparedness and warned of impending catastrophe including severe natural ecology hazards.
Loss of green spaces which can reduce flood intensity and soil erosion has added to the problem along-with concretization, unplanned urbanisation alongside nature’s fury. Concerted efforts are needed like massive afforestation and soil conservation programmes throughout the country. Reforesting of the Himalayas would be a beginning in this direction.
Our polity needs to emphasis on national priorities, take into account local realities and involve experts and environmentalists who would evaluate the ecological problems, study its context and be involved in decision and policy-making. With special emphasis on problems created by burgeoning population and its impact on the local eco-system, growth of hap-hazard housing, environmental insanitation and decay, drainage and stagnant water bodies.
The need of the hour demands action. Blue-prints and discussions are not going to help unless and until the Government starts implementing those master-plans dumped in dusty Government corridors. Even as NaMo bulldozes ahead with grand designs to develop India in to a super power, this season’s devastating floods shows, fixing today’s flood-prone metropolises is a more pressing task.
High time our leaders pull up their bootstraps instead of going through ritual circus albeit shedding copious glycerin tears in the hope these would wipe the hear-wrenching cries for help and facilitate votes at election time. If lakhs are displaced, toh ki faraak painda hai in our billion plus population?
The writing is clearly on the wall. Netas have to shed reluctance to focus on long-term rather than short-term planning. India must improve its planning to reduce the potential impact of disasters before they occur. Communication and connectivity are vital as one moves from simple forecasting to impact forecasting and ensure information flows faster than the floodwater.
We need neither a bleeding heart nor blindness to know what should be done. For if we still elect to do nothing about disaster it only holds out promises of more misery, more wrenching news bulletins and more cries. Remember, life is not collating numbers, but flesh and blood with beating hearts. Can we just let them bleed? — INFA