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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dealing with deluge

Monsoon vagaries call for building resilience. Ecological thinking must spread beyond experts and conservationists.

By: Editorial |
Updated: July 27, 2021 7:34:22 am
Long spells of dry weather are today interspersed with bouts of intense downpour.

In the past 10 days, the skies have opened up to unleash extreme weather events in the mountains of north India and the coastal parts of western India. Landslides and flashfloods have claimed more than 150 lives and left a trail of destruction in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and parts of Karnataka. On July 22, Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra’s Satara district received nearly 600 mm of rain — unprecedented in its recorded history. Ratnagiri district has broken a 40-year-old record for most rainfall in July. On July 18, Mumbai received 230 mm rainfall in just six hours. South of the city, in Raigad, Maharashtra’s hardest-hit district, at least 53 people lost their lives when a hillock came crashing down. Goa is experiencing its worst floods since 1982. Such chaotic behaviour of the elements is increasingly becoming the hallmark of the Indian monsoon. But the country’s weather forecasters, planners and policymakers are yet to come to terms with the challenge posed by climate change.

Long spells of dry weather are today interspersed with bouts of intense downpour. With their drainage systems remaining clogged at several points, most Indian cities, including Delhi and Mumbai, are ill-equipped to tackle such torrential rains. Urbanisation that is ill-informed by key precepts of hydrology compromises the defence of city-dwellers against weather vagaries. In most cities, for instance, aquifers that used to recharge groundwater and channelise rainfall to larger water bodies have been taken over by concrete. In 2019, the National Institute of Disaster Management’s Landslide Management Strategy flagged another area of concern. Planners in the Himalayan region and Western Ghats often use city plans of the plains as their template, “resulting in slope instability,” it pointed out. The construction boom has spread to rural agglomerations that are prone to mudslips. A deterioration in the soil’s integrity due to land-use changes puts people at high risk of rainfall-triggered hillock collapses.

Development studies scholars have been writing about these problems but the political costs of changing the dominant development paradigm in ecologically fragile regions are often high. The Gadgil committee report on the Western Ghats that called for regulating development activities, for instance, was resisted in the region and neglected by the mainstream political parties. It’s clear that building resilience of communities to climate vagaries will require building channels of communication between experts, conservationists, the political class and civil society at large.

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