Disasters do occur. It occurs unexpectedly. People should learn lessons from those calamities; not learning lessons is also disastrous. This is happening in States where rains are wreaking unprecedented havoc by floods and landslides. Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra are the worst hit this year due to such disasters. The immediate task is to take up rescue operations and take care of those in relief camps. Once the efforts to restore normal life are put on track, it is wise to take a close look at the root of these disasters. It may well-nigh be impossible to stop rain-related catastrophe completely. But it is possible to soften the impact if people heed to expert advises and guidelines.
One of the major areas is to redress the environmental imbalance that has played a role in intensifying the damage. Both in Kerala and Karnataka, reckless and unmindful quarrying and mining played a damaging role in both increasing the flood fury and causing landslides. Even a week after the earth’s fury subsided, scores of people remain buried in several feet of mud and slush. It is appropriate to recall the Gadgil Committee’s Report which made far-reaching proposals to rein in unplanned and reckless construction in the Western Ghats, most of which is declared ecologically sensitive. Instead of heeding to some of the crucial proposals in the report, the Kerala government preferred to go by ‘people’s voice’ and watered down the report. It has now come to light that most of the landslips in Western Ghats are due to water seeping into mountainous terrain through the gaps caused by activities like quarrying.
The door to disaster is wide open as the mountain ranges and hills are heavily deforested to make way for construction or cultivation of crops. According to a report of the National Building Research Organisation, four-fifths of the landslides occur due to continuing human activity. It is important to find out a balance between development and destruction of hills. It is no one’s contention that the entire Western Ghats should be made unapproachable to human settlements. But it is important to keep in mind that unrestrained exploitation of mountains and reckless activity will bring vast swathes of it crashing down during heavy rains. In the same way, construction activities should come to an end in river sides as it will hamper the flow of water downstream, leading to floods.
The earth has its rhythm, but it is undergoing major changes. The climate change is one of them. For example, monsoon rains that used to be spread across months now get delayed and are concentrated in a few days, causing overflowing of rivers and flooding areas close to river bank. It is surprising that disaster management machinery has failed to take note of this phenomenon. Moreover, early warning can avoid some of the disasters. Unfortunately, in most cases, people are caught unawares by flash floods and landslides in the absence of any mitigation measure or early warning system. There is no denying the fact that r ain-related disasters are at our door-step. It will be unwise to ignore them.
(Published on 19th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 34)