Insights into Editorial: Ecological perils of discounting the future
Once the wettest place on Earth, Cherrapunji, a town in northeastern India, has faced a drought each winter for the past few years.
Kerala, a state in the southwest, flooded devastatingly in 2018, but saw its wells run dry soon after.
Chennai, a growing south-Indian metropolis, was inundated by rains in 2015—but this summer, waiting for the monsoon, its 11 million residents have watched three of its four reservoirs run dry.
Meanwhile, across India, the groundwater that provides an invaluable buffer between monsoons is severely depleted and in danger of being irreversibly lost.
Floods and Droughts are man-made Disaster:
In a report last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) called the Chennai floods of 2015 a “man made disaster”, a pointer to how the encroachment of lakes and river floodplains has driven India’s sixth largest city to this ineluctable situation.
The Chennai floods are a symbol of consistent human failings and poor urban design which are common to most urban centres in India if not urban centres across the world. Now, Chennai is in the midst of another crisis, one of water scarcity.
Presently, the flood situation in Bihar continued to remain grim with over 2.5 million people affected by it across the 12 districts of the state
when the consequences of Environmental degradation begin to wreak havoc, it becomes difficult to draw the correlation between nature’s vengeance with human failings.
In Chennai, more than 30 waterbodies of significance have disappeared in the past century.
Concretisation or the increase in paved surfaces has affected the percolation of rainwater into the soil, thereby depleting groundwater levels to a point of no return.
Urbanisation without vision:
Urbanisation at the cost of reclaiming water bodies is a pan-India if not worldwide phenomenon.
Chennai, however, is not alone in terms of suffering from the consequences of human folly.
There are examples in cities such as Bengaluru, Hyderabad and even Mexico City.
- In Bengaluru, 15 lakes have lost their ecological character in less than five years according to a High Court notice to the city’s administrative body responsible for civic amenities and some infrastructural assets.
The lakes, which are now encroached areas, find use as a bus stand, a stadium and, quite ironically, as an office of the Pollution Control Board.
In Mexico city, what was once a network of lakes built by the Aztecs in the 11th and 12th centuries, has given way to a downtown city centre. Parts of the city, sink a few metres every year causing immense damage to buildings.
The Telangana example:
- The government of Telangana launched a massive rejuvenation movement in form of “Mission Kakatiya” which involves the restoration of irrigation tanks and lakes/minor irrigation sources built by the Kakatiya dynasty.
- From the perspective of inter-generational justice, this is a move towards giving future generations in the State their rightful share of water and, therefore, a life of dignity.
- The city of Hyderabad is now moving towards a sustainable hydraulic model with some of the best minds in the country working on it.
- This model integrates six sources of water in a way that even the most underdeveloped areas of the city can have equitable access to water resources and the groundwater levels restored in order to avoid a calamity of the kind that has gripped Chennai now.
Learning the Success models to protect our Ecology:
Why should other urban centres shy away from adopting, remodelling and implementing some of the best water management practices to avoid disaster?
The answer perhaps lies in the tendency of policymakers to discount the future and of their obsession of focussing on the here and now.
Mexico City created a new executive position of a “resilience officer” to save its sinking urban sprawls.
Bengaluru can reclaim Kundalahalli lake (once a landfill) through corporate social responsibility funds in a Public Private Partnership model.
Hyderabad and the larger state of Telangana rebuild its resilience through a combination of political will and well-designed policies such as the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme and Mission.
Unlike issues such as traffic congestion or crime which are visible, environmental degradation is not what most people can easily see or feel in their everyday lives.
If we do not wake up now, we have to be prepared to face the consequences of nature wreaking great havoc on humanity. We would not need nuclear bombs for our obliteration.
If we truly envision a great future for this country, how can we possibly risk the lives of half of our people and the next generations who could be facing a life in cities parched by drought, stranded by floods, mortified by earthquakes or torn by wars over fresh water?
It is estimated that in just 30 years from now, by 2050, half of India will be living in cities.
What has happened in Chennai now or what happened in Kerala last year in the form of floods are not a case of setting alarm bells ringing, but one of explosions.