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Last Updated : Aug 13, 2019 02:38 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Floods | We have to change not for posterity, but for our own survival

Environmentalists from Madhav Gadgil to the latest IPCC report remind us the importance of nature and the dangers of disregarding it.

Moneycontrol Contributor @moneycontrolcom
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Representative Image

K Raveendran

The wise men of history have cautioned us that the future generations will hold us responsible for what we have done to this planet. It is indeed a nice thought to be caring for the future generations, but global warming has changed the equations so much that we need to mend our ways not for the sake of posterity, but for our own survival.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change, land degradation and food security points out that climate change is exacerbating land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity, flooding, drought frequency and severity, heat stress, dry spells, wind, sea-level rise, wave action, etc. threatening our survival.

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India has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to global warming and is set to face the brunt of climate change in the days to come. All the predictions in the reports by the IPCC and other agencies are becoming a reality in India: intense heat waves, floods and droughts and water stress, all further exposing an already vulnerable population.

The release of the latest report has ominously coincided with a devastating spell of natural calamities across India. Incessant rains have wreaked havoc and triggered flooding in Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Assam, Odisha and other eastern parts of the country.

In fact, across the country heavy rainfall leading to floods, tropical cyclones of severe nature, unprecedented heat waves are recurring with disturbing regularity, so much so that there is a new normal.

For second time in a row, Kerala has been battered by extremely heavy rains, which have led to landslides. The state has already seen over 80 landslides in the space of a week, which claimed over 100 lives. Entire settlements on the foothills have disappeared.

The devastation is similar to the ones suffered in the aftermath of cloudbursts in Tehri, Uttarakhand and Karnataka last year. Kerala’s own flood devastation last year was triggered by continuous heavy rains, which forced the authorities to open the shutters of major dams, leading to flash floods that caught people living downstream unprepared. This year’s tragedy occurred even as the state was preparing to observe the anniversary of the 2018 deluge, the biggest that the state witnessed in over 100 years.

While the Tehri, Uttarakhand tragedies had come like bolt from the blue, Kerala had clearly been forewarned. A team headed by Madhav Gadgil, ecologist and founder of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, had submitted a report recommending strong measures to protect the sensitive Western Ghats region by declaring an area extending to 140,000 kilometres as requiring special protection, including strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non-forest purposes and construction of high rises. However, he was hounded out as an environmental prankster pushing someone’s agenda. The Kerala government rejected the recommendations, without adopting even the most innocuous ones among them.

Successive state governments constituted committee after committee to study the Gadgil recommendations until some such panel came up with the recommendations that the establishment wanted, because they did not want to displease the real estate and its ancillary lobbies, which contributed liberally to the war chests of political parties.

If an audit was to be done, it would prove that mindless ‘development’ is the reason for the current floods in other states as well. For example, a majority of the places in Kerala that flooded last year and this were classified as ecologically-sensitive by the Gadgil committee. In fact, the Kavalappara landslide in Malappuram, which buried some 60 houses with its residents, occurred in an area that had 27 quarries operating. The Gadgil committee had recommended a complete ban on quarrying in the fragile eco-zones.

Forests and greenery continues to give way for concrete jungles across India; mountains are flattened for ‘development’ and rivers are choked. All this is being done in the name of progress and development, unmindful of the fact that a fragile ecosystem is being destroyed.

It is time to evaluate the price we are paying for disregarding nature, to learn from past mistakes and take corrective steps. The IPCC report comes as a timely reminder.

K Raveendran is a senior journalist. Views are personal.

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First Published on Aug 13, 2019 12:58 pm
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