Down to Earth - - EDITOR’S PAGE -

THE FLOOD­WA­TERS dev­as­tat­ing large parts of the Hi­malayan state of Jammu and Kashmir caught the peo­ple and the gov­ern­ment un­awares, it is said. But why should this be so? We know ev­ery year, like clock­work, In­dia grap­ples with months of crip­pling wa­ter short­age and drought and then months of dev­as­tat­ing floods. This year of­fers no respite from this an­nual cy­cle but some­thing new and strange is a foot. Each year, the floods are grow­ing in in­ten­sity. Each year, the rain events get more vari­able and ex­treme. Each year, eco­nomic dam­age in­creases and de­vel­op­ment gains are lost in one sea­son of flood or se­vere drought.

Sci­en­tists now say con­clu­sively that there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween nat­u­ral vari­abil­ity of weather and cli­mate change, a pat­tern brought about by hu­man emis­sions that is heat­ing up the at­mos­phere faster than nor­mal. Sci­en­tists who study the mon­soons tell us that they are be­gin­ning to make that dis­tinc­tion be­tween nor­mal mon­soon and what is now show­ing up in ab­nor­mal ex­treme rain events. Re­mem­ber, the mon­soons are known to be capri­cious and con­found­ing. Even then sci­en­tists can see the change.

This is fur­ther com­pli­cated by the fact that mul­ti­ple fac­tors af­fect weather and another set of fac­tors af­fects its sever­ity and im­pact.In other words, the causes of dev­as­ta­tion fol­low­ing ex­treme events—like droughts or floods— are of­ten com­pli­cated and in­volve mis­man­age­ment of re­sources and poor plan­ning.

The Jammu and Kashmir floods are be­cause of un­usu­ally high rain­fall. This is only part of the prob­lem. It is also clear we have de­stroyed drainage in flood­plains ev­ery­where through ut­ter mis­man­age­ment.We build em­bank­ments be­liev­ing we can con­trol the river only to find the pro­tec­tion bro­ken. Worse, we build habi­ta­tions in flood­plains. Ur­ban In­dia is mind­less about drainage. Storm wa­ter drains are ei­ther clogged or just do not ex­ist.Our lakes and ponds have been eaten away by real es­tate—land is what a city val­ues, not wa­ter.In all this what hap­pens when ex­treme rain­fall events hap­pen? The city drowns.

It is no dif­fer­ent in Jammu and Kashmir. The tradi- tional sys­tem of flood man­age­ment was to chan­nelise the wa­ter from the Hi­malayas into lakes and wa­ter chan­nels. Dal and Nageen lakes in Srinagar are not just its beauty spots, but the sponge.The wa­ter from the mas­sive catch­ment comes into the lakes, which are in­ter­con­nected. More im­por­tantly, each lake has its flood dis­charge chan­nel which drains the spillover.But over time, we have for­got­ten the art of drainage. We only see land for build­ings, not for wa­ter. The at­ti­tude is it will rain for only a few days, so why “waste” land to man­age that wa­ter. This is what has hap­pened in Srinagar. Res­i­den­tial build­ings have come up in the low-ly­ing ar­eas of the city, flood chan­nels have been en­croached upon or ne­glected.Now when it rains heav­ily—and with greater fre­quency and in­ten­sity be­cause of cli­mate change—the wa­ter has nowhere to go. Flood and dev­as­ta­tion are in­evitable.

All this makes for a dou­ble whammy. On the one hand, we are mis­man­ag­ing our wa­ter re­sources, thus, in­ten­si­fy­ing floods and droughts. On the other hand, cli­mate change is in­creas­ing the fre­quency of ex­treme weather events, mak­ing the coun­try even more vul­ner­a­ble.

In­di­ans know that the mon­soon is their real fi­nance min­is­ter. Clearly, the op­por­tu­nity is to make sure that ev­ery drop of rain is har­vested and used in the pro­longed dry sea­son. But this rain will come in the form of more fe­ro­cious events.We must pre­pare for that. Hold­ing and chan­nelis­ing rain must be­come the na­tion’s mis­sion. It is our only way to the fu­ture.

This means ev­ery wa­ter body, ev­ery chan­nel and ev­ery catch­ment has to be safe­guarded. Th­ese are the tem­ples of mod­ern In­dia. Built to wor­ship rain.

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