16th July – Ecological perils of discounting the future

In a report last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) called the Chennai floods of 2015 a “man-made disaster”, a pointer to how the encroachment of lakes and river floodplains has driven India’s sixth largest city to this ineluctable situation.

Ecological perils

The uniqueness –

Unlike issues such as traffic congestion or crime which are visible, environmental degradation is not what most people can easily see or feel in their everyday lives. Therefore, when the consequences of such degradation begin to wreak havoc, it becomes difficult to draw the correlation between nature’s vengeance with human failings.

Urbanization without vision –

  • Urbanization at the cost of reclaiming water bodies is a pan-India if not a worldwide phenomenon. There are examples in cities such as Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and even Mexico City. In Bengaluru, 15 lakes have lost their ecological character in less than five years.
  • In Mexico City, what was once a network of lakes built by the Aztecs in the 11th and 12th centuries, has given way to a downtown city centre.
  • In Telangana, the byzantine network of tanks and lakes built by the Kakatiya dynasty has disappeared over the years. In Telangana, “tanks have been the lifeline of the State because of its geographical positioning”. The State’s “topography and rainfall pattern have made tank irrigation an ideal type of irrigation by storing and regulating water flow for agricultural use”.

The Telangana Example –

There are a number of lessons that can be learned. –

  • The Chief Minister of Telangana launched a massive rejuvenation movement in the form of “Mission Kakatiya” which involves the restoration of irrigation tanks and lakes/minor irrigation sources built by the Kakatiya dynasty.
  • The city of Hyderabad is now moving towards a sustainable hydraulic model with some of the best minds in the country working on it. This model integrates six sources of water in a way that even the most underdeveloped areas of the city can have equitable access to water resources and the groundwater levels restored in order to avoid a calamity of the kind that has gripped Chennai now.

More examples –

  • Mexico city has created a new executive position of a “resilience officer” to save its sinking urban sprawls.
  • Bengaluru has reclaimed Kundalahalli lake (once a landfill) through corporate social responsibility funds in a Public Private Partnership model

Way forward –

  • If we truly envision a great future for this country, how can we possibly risk the lives of half of our people and the next generations who could be facing life in cities parched by drought, stranded by floods, mortified by earthquakes or torn by wars over fresh water?
  • What has happened in Chennai now or what happened in Kerala last year in the form of floods are not a case of setting alarm bells ringing, but one of the explosions. If we do not wake up now, we have to be prepared to face the consequences of nature wreaking great havoc on humanity.

SourceThe Hindu

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