The terrible flooding in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is proof of the Indian policy makers’ reluctance to take climate change seriously By Srishti Taneja
The devastating floods that struck the state of Jammu and Kashmir have completely changed the landscape, at least for the time being, of a place once known as paradise on earth. Nature’s outrage has snuffed out more than 200 precious lives in the worst flooding in the state in six decades. About 4,00,000 people are still waiting to be rescued.
A natural disaster of such intensity is not new to a geographically vast and diverse country. From mountains to oceans and tropical rainforests to deserts, no place in India can claim to have completely escaped the wrath of nature. But it is worth noting that of late, climate change and tampering with nature are emerging as key factors responsible for these disasters.
An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) suggests that the J&K floods could very well be another manifestation of an extreme weather event – induced by climate change.
Rainfall has become erratic with heavy to very heavy rainfall on the increase and moderate rainfall witnessing a sharp slide over the last six decades. A report by B.N. Goswami, former director of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, on the same matter has shown that between 1950 and 2000, the frequency of heavy rainfall, amounting to more than 100 or 150 mm of rainfall per day has increased whereas that of moderate rainfall (between 5 to 100 mm per day) have decreased.
“The authorities seem to be in denial about climate change which is perhaps causing these extreme events,” says Chandra Bhushan, deputy director at CSE.
“Rampant construction and encroachments have made matters so bad that even moderate rainfall could have led to similar flooding in the state. Unfortunately, this time the state has been receiving excess rainfall,” Bhushan adds.
During a recent public address, even the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proved himself to be a climate change sceptic. He said, “Climate has not changed. We have changed and our tolerance and habits have changed. So, God has been building the system in such a way that it can balance on its own.” Now, with the leader of the country’s policy juggernaut relying on divine intervention to set climate change right, it should come as no major surprise that such events have started surfacing in the country with alarming regularity.
The ministry of environment and forests’ studied silence on these matters is also a point of major concern. The J&K floods are no isolated occurence. Warnings about the effects of extreme climate change had arrived way back in 2005 when Mumbai got flooded. The Leh cloudburst (2010) and Uttarakhand torrential rains (2013) were also grim reminders of what may befall the country if environmental concerns are not paid any heed.
Parallel to our economic growth, floods and droughts are likely to increase in India, suggest a report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The fact that J&K has no flood forecast system has further put a question mark on the efficiency of India’s planning and response. As Bhushan says, “Disasters have become prominent because of poor development models and poor forecast systems. They are not prepared to face such a calamity.”
However, these recurring disasters are a grim reminder of how we underestimate the outcome even when we are aware of the looming danger.
What is worse is that even after repeated warnings from the Indian Meteorological Department, the state and the Centre did not evacuate or even inform people about the impending disaster.
So obviously, the government has once again called out the Armed Forces. They are in the thick of action in the floodravaged areas now, albeit of a different kind in the militancyaffected state. The Indian Army, Indian Air Force and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) together have rescued more than 100,000 people. On the lines of the 2013 Uttarakhand disaster, a ‘missing cell’ information system has been set up.
Meanwhile, local volunteers and NGOs are also coming forward to help and rescue people trapped in their homes and other low-lying areas. A website has been started to disseminate information and regular updates are being given out on social media regarding the flood situation.
Using technology to its hilt, Google-based applications are being used to locate people and enhance surveillance.
As of now, 79 transport aircraft and helicopters of Indian Air Force and Army Aviation Corps have been deployed. The Army has stationed 329 columns of its personnel for rescue and relief operations out of which 244 columns are carrying out operations in Srinagar and 85 columns are deployed in the Jammu region.
Villages and towns are completely submerged, especially across South Kashmir. Large trees, electricity and communication poles have been completely uprooted.
The time has come to act before it gets too late. People may need to go back to basics and learn from history the importance nature once held in their lives. Sustainability is the word one needs to understand.
Development, as has been said by many theorists, should not cost us our natural resources and environment. We have been comprehensibly taught in school about the importance of preserving and nurturing nature but as we grow, we forget to put our education to real use.
Our neighbour to the west, Pakistan, has also been devastated by the recent floods. People and property across the border have been affected in equal measure. Islamabad is also guilty of the same ignorance that stalks the South and North Block corridors in New Delhi.
Historically dubbed as ‘paradise on earth’, J&K is a jewel in India’s crown, its peaks and waters drawing tourists from all across the country and the world. After the waters recede, people and the government will see the actual extent of damage. But would that be a wake-up call loud enough to hear?