Editorial

Deluge after deluge

| Updated on October 22, 2021

The problem of climate change does not seem to be on the political agenda   -  Vishnu Prathapn

Terrifying floods have become commonplace but lessons are not being learnt

Kerala and Uttarakhand are reliving their flood nightmares of recent years. Over 80 people have lost their lives in these two States, with crops and property worth thousands of crores being destroyed. In 2018, Kerala lost nearly 500 people to floods, while in Uttarakhand a greater number of pilgrims were washed away in the swirling waters of the Bhagirathi, Mandakini and Alaknanda in 2013. These might have been epochal disasters, but cloudbursts, flash floods and very heavy rain in September and October — coinciding with the now-destructive retreating Southwest monsoon and cyclones originating in the both the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea — have become the norm. This is leading to crop losses as well. As reported by this newspaper, ‘unseasonal’ rain could impact the output of tea, coffee, rubber, cardamom in Kerala, besides West Bengal’s premium rice variety, Gobindobhog. It is expected to have damaged soyabean, onion, urad, moong and cotton crops in central India. Climate change is here; scientists attribute the extreme weather events to the warming of our oceans, the Arabian Sea in particular in recent times. Its economic effects cannot be wished away any more.

Yet, steps to mitigate the impact of such weather events are not on the radar of the political class. The effects of floods are rendered worse by illegal mining and construction on river beds and ecologically sensitive zones, as has been documented by a recent CAG report on such violations in Kerala. The report documents wholesale violations of Coastal Regulatory Zone rules by hotels, builders and other commercial entities. The Gadgil Committee report had earlier observed in 2011 that Kerala should not promote commercial activity in the ecologically sensitive zones earmarked by it. Kerala has rejected the Gadgil report, making common cause with neighbouring Karnataka. The two States are not willing to accept the watered-down proposals of the subsequent Kasturirangan panel report either. Not surprisingly, the hilly and touristy regions of Munnar, Wayanad and Kodagu are badly affected year after year. In Uttarakhand, the excessive construction of hydel and road projects has led to increased floods and landslips.

As the CAG report makes obvious, powerful vested interests are allowed to violate laws and rules with impunity. A civil society response alone can exert pressure on the political class to change course. Climate change needs to be combated not just through a technology shift in transport and energy, but also by creating carbon sinks — green cover that will help contain episodes of freak weather as well as keep its destructive effects to the minimum.

Published on October 22, 2021

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