Time to measure Himalayan risks

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Time to measure Himalayan risks

Thursday, 11 April 2019 | Kota Sriraj

Severe weather events have become the new-normal.  Remodelled strategies can help us understand the problem. We must take action before it’s too late

Last year was notable for a variety of natural disasters that made their presence felt in India. Except an earthquake, India weathered almost all types of natural calamities such as floods, droughts, heat and cold waves, lightning strikes, cyclones and even hailstorms. The fact that a single year could present such a wide variety of harsh events is remarkable. But unfortunately, this gamut of negative period failed to garner national attention. Further, neither was the pattern recognised nor analysed by weather experts.

In the last decade, weather conditions have been changing steadily and the days of extreme weather events occurring over intermittent periods are more or less over. Now, the sequence of weather-related events have tilted more towards unpredictability and have increased in frequency. The situation calls for a quick response. Further, forecast mechanisms must be suitably prepared. In fact, stakeholders must look at natural disasters in a completely new way so that India can meet future challenges. A report released by SEEDS, a non-profit organisation, on April 3, titled Face of Disasters 2019, dwelt upon the same subject. Given the changing face of disaster risks, the need to look at them from a broader perspective, with roots in resource management practices, has become imperative. It is also crucial for ecologists, environmentalists and weather experts to understand the reason for a shift in weather events. These occurrences cannot be seen in isolation anymore. What is required to tackle the rapidly changing weather conditions is a “new strategy.”

First and foremost, we must accept the changing nature of weather. This is characterised by significant drought conditions even before the onset of summers and extreme floods in unexpected locations during the monsoon. These conditions are fast becoming a new-normal for this country. Moreover, it is also increasingly being noticed that these anthropogenic influenced weather events can no longer be termed as natural disasters. Some of the weather events that occurred in the country did not qualify under the category of ‘natural disasters’. This is why they were ignored altogether. These chains of risk events were left unchecked and eventually, they transformed into huge disasters.

The coastal erosion across the 7,500 km coastline of India is an apt example. Erosion is happening at an incremental pace and is affecting livelihoods. This could become a full-blown problem in the future unless checked immediately. These long-term and uncaptured disaster impacts have life-changing consequences for affected communities besides permanently altering the fabric of an already fragile ecology. Worse is the reality that these potential risks of natural disasters are rapidly spreading to urban areas. In the future, such disasters would affect everyone alike.

Natural disasters are now not limited to hurricanes or droughts. Human intervention has given rise to bigger problems. The melting of the Himalayan glaciers is an apt example. The country has no comprehensive policy and strategy to deal with something as big as a Himalayan meltdown. The concerning part is that due to global warming, the meltdown has already begun and India still does not have a policy to stem this problem, nor a plan that can cater to relief in the aftermath.

Weather will increasingly change its pattern in the near future. India must figure out how to stay ahead of the developments and ensure that nature-related events are not precipitated. For this, there is a need to look at disaster vulnerabilities that lie under the radar, waiting to strike. It is also essential to develop weather markers and signs of distress symptoms that can enable the scientific community and meteorological experts to gauge weather trends and the gravity of any upcoming extreme event.

India is under a lot of stress thanks to the international community, which wants our country to walk the talk on green house gas emissions. Given the extremely high dependence on fossil fuels, it is unlikely that we can show any meaningful progress in dialling down the carbon footprint and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Given these conditions, the way to reduce pollution is to expand green energy usage and ensure that carbon sinks are increased across the country. It is also essential to synchronise urban planning with ambient temperatures and pollution levels. As it is said: Large problems need larger solutions. India is going to face more of weather-related problems in the near future. This issue needs a large-scale sustainable solution that is riding on a future-proof weather management strategy.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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