Instead of investing so much money on dams, my opinion is that we should begin green development. We need to concentrate on areas like water-shed development and afforestation.
Uttarakhand in 2013 is not a pretty sight–with 10,000 people killed and 3,000 still missing, the focus has understandably been on getting people out safely. However, the impact the flood has had on the people who earn their livelihood working in the valley during the yatra season is a story that has remained largely untold.
Dr. Ravi Chopra, Director of the People’s Science Institute in Dehra Dun and a member of the National Ganga River Basin Authority, sat down to talk to The Alternative about this crisis, his concerns and what steps need to be taken to address these issues.
The gloomier story.
The floods have caused so many families in Uttarakhand, whose male members work in the Char Dham site, all along the yatra route in dhabas, hotels and tourist spots, to lose their livelihoods. This is a huge and largely unrecognized crises. A lot of these families have lost their breadwinners due to the floods and are ready to give up all hope. Recently, there was a report that 14,000 people are missing from several areas. With their land and livestock gone, how can they be expected to stay and earn their keep? Though the focus is on how to get pilgrims and tourists out right now, the crisis of livelihoods will be a hard one to solve in the long run. Though the yatras will be revived in a couple of years, we still don’t know in what shape and form.
Uttarakhand is a fragile, mountainous region. Though it does receive heavy rainfall, there haven’t been this many cloud bursts or floods in the 80s or 90s. These floods seem to occur every year now, but I can think of only two such occurrences during these previous decades–the Kailash Mansarover landslide in 1998, during which actress Pratima Bedi lost her life, and a similar disaster in the western part of the state that same week.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been saying for years that global warming will increase the frequency of extreme weather events. The last 15 years have made it seem like we’re already riding this global warming curve. North India has been said to be particularly vulnerable due to the buildup of huge amounts of pollution from vehicular and air traffic–the exhaust from countless helicopters is leaving large black patches in the snows of Kedarnath. Large amounts of forest cover have also been cleared for agricultural land. All these concerns need to be addressed.
A man-mad disaster?
The process of economic growth has led to shoddy environmental and building practices; bare mountains have remained deforested, roads have been widened and designed to minimize expenditure rather than maximize safety, tunnels have been blasted into mountains, ill-conceived hydro-projects and diversion dams have destroyed mountains, rivers and their eco-systems, and land developers have encroached on river banks.
Global warming has also had a large part to play, with the World Bank predicting that India’s summer monsoons will become highly unpredictable should the world’s average temperature rise by 2 degrees celsius in the next two decades. The large number of unusual and intense rainfall events recently seem to indicate that they’re right.
Preparedness to combat such crisis
For the number of reports being prepared and recommendations made, precious little is actually being done to prevent or prepare for such casualties.
There are lots of things that can be done for preparedness, but nothing is happening. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered; should we leave disaster management to the district disaster committees or should we have a centralized agency that has an overall command? Maybe we need a disaster commission like we have an election commission? Hopefully, these issues will be taken up now.
What we can do
Though tourism is degrading fragile parts of our eco-system, there is scope to work with nature rather that against it, and I think eco-growth will still take place. Instead of investing so much money on dams, my opinion is that we should begin green development. We need to concentrate on areas like water-shed development and afforestation. Though there isn’t that much profit to be made, it will make the locals some money. Green development is far more sustainable and equitable than profit driven development.