India Prioritizing Efforts
Flash floods in India continue to wreak havoc in poverty stricken areas throughout the country. Relief efforts and disaster management must feature highly on the government’s agenda.
The Indian government should immediately provide relief to those
affected by the flash floods.
One might say that flash floods are a yearly occurrence in this region but what is it that makes this calamity so different? The answer lies in the fact that the loss of life this time around has been much more than in previous years.
The ‘Himalayan Tsunami,’ which struck India in June is said to have been triggered by excessively heavy rainfall of more than 220mm (8.6in) in a region home to the headwaters of the river Ganges. From the western Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, homes, hotels, roads and bridges have been washed away by the torrential rains and swollen rivers, even causing havoc along the mountainous territory from Kedarnath down to the plains.
One might say that flash floods are a yearly occurrence in this region but what is it that makes this calamity so different? The answer lies in the fact that the loss of life this time around has been much more than in previ- ous years. As the monsoons arrived in India a month early, the plethora of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims, who actually number up to more than 60,000, were still present rather than having returned home, as is usually the case.
Many have been left wondering what role human activities have to play in these frequent occurrences. People muse that perhaps a multitude of hydroelectric projects have further aggravated the cause. According to Deb Mukherjee, an expert on the Himalayas, the monsoon season was but one factor amongst several others; Mukherjee holds both, natural and man-made factors, responsible for this extraordinary disaster. He claims that the sudden cloud burst, the nature of Himalayan geology and the often environmentally unsound development of the region have all contributed to the tragedy. The excessive boom in tourism has put a severe strain on the Himalayan infrastructure. It has also shaken up the Himalayan ecosystem, which comprises of mountainous terrain and glacial bodies.
The modern-day natural occurrences are a reality of climate change, change that cannot be stopped. Since 2000, the western Himalayan states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have witnessed an average of three cloudbursts per monsoon. But the ravaged villages of the flash floods tell the grim story of how India is ill equipped to handle the natural disasters it faces which is further exacerbated by a weak infrastructure planning.
The loss of ecosystem services is priceless and according to the PHD Chamber of Commerce, 11% of the Gross State Domestic Product is lost due to a decline in prospective tourism. Tragically, the most affected by such a calamity have been the poor, with lands and shops having been washed away and entire livelihoods destroyed. Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh has said that the tragedy has pushed the state one year back in terms of development and around ninety percent of cash crops, particularly the apple crop, have been completely destroyed by the flash floods in the Kinnaur district.
In recent times, people, on the basis of anonymity have also made claims of the intense political pressure behind the poor infrastructural development that is taking place at an alarming pace. This indicates lack of good governance and corruption at the policy planning level.
As the 2014 elections approach in India, political parties will need to revise their stance and start proposing policies whereby the government and key stakeholders will engage the communities and local authorities in making them aware of the flood risk in view of climate variability, along with taking responsibility of disasters and formulating crises management cells to respond to natural disasters. With all the relief efforts promoted on public and private platforms via donations, another grave threat looms over good intentions: fake donation websites that are emerging in cyberspace. Such website operate by means of emails as well as posts on social networking sites that request for donations towards fake relief funds.
Good governance is no doubt the key to a better future but the effort needs to be at both ends. Communities need to realize the inherent dangers of living on mountainous terrains and the government bodies need to identify and communicate with highrisk areas so that the community may take adequate measures in time. As the community begins to rise from the rubble left in the aftermath of the Himalayan Tsunami, serious efforts must be taken to mitigate the risks associated with natural disasters in extreme poverty ridden areas.