We have to tackle over-development in eco zones firmly after devastating floods across our western coast
Nature can be devastating as the recent floods across the western coast from Gujarat to Kerala have proven. However, it is becoming apparent that no matter how brutal it might be, human activity has become a force multiplier, worsening its impact. Rampant and often illegal construction across many parts of the ghats, particularly in the ecologically-sensitive areas of Karnataka and Kerala, are blocking natural flow paths and in the absence of new channels to divert overflow, the raging waters are running amok and inundating settlements. Elsewhere, the montane forests have been denuded blatantly, loosening the soil and leading to massive mud and rockslides, burying men, women and children under tonnes of rubble. Mangroves have been uprooted in the name of development, leading to tidal surges as bad as tsunamis. And all of this coupled with the clear and present danger — man-made global warming — has made these annual rains deadlier. The prevalence of micro-climate and intense bursts of showers even in lean phases have stressed existing infrastructure further. On August 8, Karnataka received nearly five times the rainfall it normally does. Mysuru in south Karnataka received 62.2 mm absolute rainfall in a day — 3,176 per cent, or 32 times, the long-term average for that day.
But we ought not to be surprised as floods and other natural disasters have been continuing since time immemorial. Our earliest history mentions them as does almost every major religious text. As a civilisation, we have done much to mitigate the risks. Even in India, over the past few years, proper planning and better rescue and relief operations have meant more people are being rescued and fewer lives lost to post-disaster hunger and disease. For this, we must thank the officials and foot soldiers of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the armed forces. Navy and Air Force pilots often fly helicopters to rescue and send relief in extremely trying conditions. Even the process of relief collection and distribution has improved thanks to social media and funds. But disaster preparedness means factoring in evacuation drills, riverine overflows and predictive scenarios of destruction rather than short-term structural solutions like construction of embankments or digging of canals and spurs.
An entire settlement disappeared because a hill collapsed in Kerala. Shocking as it is, blame the politicians and even the Church who protested the Gadgil Committee and Kasturirangan Reports on the Western Ghats that wanted to protect several areas from a rush of development. Across the southern state, hillside construction has worsened matters than before. It was only a matter of time before a devastating rainfall would make the chickens come home to roost. It is, therefore, ironic that Kerala has been hit by floods two years in a row. It is now imperative that the State Government seriously explore how to implement the reports and if need be, demolish constructions. Kerala’s successive plight should be a lesson for the rest of India where unplanned development and political ineptitude to act against those who encroach forest areas, often because they are politically-connected, continue unabashedly. Politicians would then actually have blood on their hands because people are dying thanks to their greed. Man can no longer control nature but can control how it will impact us.