Global temperatures have been steadily climbing and after every month, we are told that it was the hottest month in decades. We have been experiencing very hot weather when the temperatures normally start coming down. But it is not the heat that is scaring people as much as bouts of heavy rainfall that cause flooding. While one can, to some extent, escape heat waves by staying indoors, by using coolers and air conditioners, by growing curtains of vegetation and so on, floods are destructive causing lakhs of rupees worth of damage – to homes, to vehicles, to infrastructure. The roads during the floods serve as water channels. After the floods they are totally ravaged and have to be re-laid all over again. Today Gurugram and Hyderabad are in the news for the heavy rain and consequent flooding. We see a variety of vehicles revving through water. Last year, after the floods in Chennai in November-December where hundreds of cars were affected, the service centres simply refused to take on regular service calls saying that they had a long backlog to clear.
Whether they are coastal are far inland, the problem due to lack of drainage remain the same. But is it only a problem of drainage? In the small island town of Srirangam, I asked my father who grew up there and lives in the same house as his ancestors did whether he remembered such heavy rainfall and flooding of the house when he was young. In fact, he was clear that till about 10 years ago, not a drop of rainwater entered the houses on the street where he lives because that is at a slightly higher elevation. During floods in the late 1970s when my grandfather described the island like Venice, the house my father lives in today was dry and provided shelter for many. But not so today. When it rains, it is a downpour and before you know what is happening, there is water an inch deep inside the house. Nor can we remember such heavy bouts of rainfall in the last thirty years. Yet the Cauvery and Coleroon that encircle the island are largely dry!
In this context, it would be useful to ponder over a key finding of the GEO-6 Asia and Pacific Regional Assessment which says: “Increasing vulnerability to the impacts of natural hazards and extreme events: The effect of climate change and disasters and increasing vulnerability due to unplanned development and urban migration will continue to impose economic losses that could offset development gains, increase poverty and inequity, and threaten water and food security”. It also says that “Regional economic growth and urbanization have helped lift millions out of poverty to middle class affluence, and improved access to basic services. These achievements, however, have come with heavy costs to natural capital, biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and human health. These stressors contribute to gender and economic inequalities and undermine regional economic growth itself.
Climate change, air pollution and ecosystem disturbance are emerging issues and could reverse recent progress in human development. To counteract the socioeconomic drivers leading to environmental degradation, an economic transformation that is particularly based on improved energy and transportation systems and smart green growth for urban areas is urgently needed”. Very clearly we need to look again at our development priorities. Not just government but every one of us has to participate in this. The problem is our short term memory. The minute the roads dry up, we forget the problem till it occurs again. So what is the way forward?