Thursday, June 27, 2013

Was Uttarakhand tragedy man-made?

Recent tragedy because of heavy rain and flash floods in some regions of Uttarakhand has resulted in heavy loss of life, property and damage which will take years to recover. Many villages and cities were affected because of this natural calamity. No doubt the disaster was because of heavy rains and flash floods but the question is what is reason for such a heavy loss of property and life? Why they didn't give warning to residents of those areas? Why evacuation orders were not issued (a normal protocol in almost all developed countries in case of such anticipated natural calamity)? Why proper disaster response team was not in place so that when such disaster strikes not all government machinery panic and don't know what to do and where to start?

Entire world now is in crazy race of economical progress, everyone wants development which brings more money (and in turn supposed to bring more happiness) no matter what we want development, the race is too competitive and furious, it seems there is no time to plan any strategy they just want to run, run at any cost and win the race or at a tie but loosing is not a option. Nothing wrong in all these ambitions and aspirations (about progress and development), they are required to motivate people to do the good work, discover new inventions and in turn bring long term sustainable progress. But that's where is the problem, very few are looking for 'long term sustainable progress', most of us are in race for short term gains, quicker the better, no one has time to think about impact of our actions on environment.

Because of recent economic progress in India there is huge migration of working class from villages to cities and all these people need place to stay, water to drink and also generate lot of waste, so all these things are putting enormous amount of pressure on infrastructure of these cities and some of them are crumbling under this pressure of uncontrolled immigration and poor management. In most of these cities people built homes wherever they find empty space, dry river bed, top of drainage, right on the bank of river, on hills, no place is forbidden, they manage it either legally (by paying bribe to corresponding authorities, if they are rich) or illegally (with help of some local politician who in turn gets all these votes). I myself lived in one of such illegally constructed neighborhood for most of my life, in the beginning situation is horrible, with no water connection, no latrines, electricity, etc. but slowly things improve and  they get all the required facilities (again illegally, it takes time but they manage). As these neighborhoods are illegal they don't follow any rules or regulations which are there for any legal residential construction, if anyone take a tour of any of these neighborhoods they will understand what I am talking about. There is almost negligible or no space between two houses, people construct homes like card houses, side by side, almost resting on each other. People try to construct something on each and every available space, there is no plan for emergency exit or proper drainage, any free space is too valuable to waste. Over the time these neighborhoods grow, many people with their family settle there and call it their home and then it's almost impossible for any government or authority to remove them from that place. Even government legalizes many of these settlements because there is no other option for them (our house was legalized after two or three decades). Everything goes fine as long as nothing abnormal happens like what happened in Mumbai (in 2005) or in Uttarakhand (2013) or some earthquake, and then hell breaks loose, people don't know what to do, where to go, how to escape...because there is no escape path, there is no emergency exit, even many times its difficult to send any help to these places.

Whenever I visit my old home, I often wonder if some natural calamity strikes this place (I really wish it won't) then how are these people going to save themselves, the lanes are so narrow, buildings are so close to each other that some of them don't even get sunlight even during bright sunny day, even ambulance can't reach many houses, they are only accessible either by walk or by two wheelers and thousands of people live there, I can't even imagine the situation in case on any natural disaster. My neighborhood is just one among thousands of other situated in many other cities, they grow every day. These things multiply destructive ability of any disaster (fire, flood or earth quake). This is ugly side of unplanned development, everyone wants to move in some big city, they are willing to live anywhere but they want to live there, some how modern development story in India doesn't include villages, they feel left out, people are moving out from villages in search of better life, everything happens in cities so if people want to be a part of this great success story then it's better to be in city, this is the message everyone is receiving. We need to change this, at least in India we can not afford to have such non sustainable growth (because of our huge population and very limited natural resources including land).

I hope people demand better infrastructure and fight for it (both in cities and villages), and once they get it try really hard to maintain it, I hope they follow the rules and don't play with their own life, I know it's easy to say this than to follow but all these disasters should force all of us to think. It is not logical or even practical to follow single model of growth for entire country, India is such a diverse (geographically, socially and economically) country so we need to have some model which takes into account everything (not only middle class, skilled workers or educated class), there are many intelligent and experienced people who can come up with such model and I hope they come up with something which suits our diverse country and its people. I am sure with proper planning and implementation of good and practical ideas we can avoid man made disasters and also deal with natural calamities in much better way, so that next time when something like this happens at least we are better prepared. I know we can not control nature's behavior but we can definitely control our actions and make sure that we don't make situation more complicated and worse.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)

Links:
1. Geologist explains why Uttarakhand tragedy was man-made

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