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Kerala Floods: New infrastructure development needs to be environmentally compliant

Kerala Floods: New infrastructure development needs to be environmentally compliant

Kerala Floods: New infrastructure development needs to be environmentally compliant
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By Harini Calamur  Aug 23, 2018 9:50:46 AM IST (Updated)

India’s infrastructure development needs to be in sync with the environment.

Kerala has been facing the onslaught of monsoons since July. Last week, that turned into a veritable flood. Kerala received 2366.94 mm of rain, that is 42.3% more than normal. With rivers breaking their banks, homes, and roads are unable to resist the onslaught of torrid rainwater. At least 370 people are feared dead, and close to 8 lakh people

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in camps across the state. The state of Kerala,  armed forces, NDRF, local cops, civil administration, fishermen, NGO’s and civilians are putting together a rescue and relief operation that is expected to last a long time. While the rains have subsided, and the water levels are seeming to abate, there is months, if not years, of rehabilitation and reconstruction on the anvil. At the time of writing, insurance companies were already looking at claims topping Rs 500 crores, and these are expected to go up manifold. Right now, we don’t even know the extent of damage, or rebuilding that is going to be needed.

But, before the Government of Kerala beings reconstructing its decimated infrastructure, it may want to pause to consider some of the mistakes that it had made during the massive expansion of Kerala’s economy and standard of living over the last two decades. While heavy rains are one cause of the floods, unplanned development, as well as environmental degradation would be the other cause of the great loss faced by the state.
Since the turn of the millennium, India has seen, on an average, one large flood a year. In some years there have been multiple floods in different parts of the country. Assam in 2012, Bihar 2007, Maharashtra in 2005, Uttarakhand in 2013,  the Chennai and Tamil Nadu floods in 2015, the Gujarat floods in 2005,  - in each of these cases we have watched with awe, as gushing river waters, wash away everything in their path. And, in each of the cases, we have learned that much of the damage could have been averted if we had been sensible about building infrastructure. People discovered suddenly, in 2015, that Chennai airport was built on the flood plains of the Adayar river- and that was when the entire airport submerged. Right now, we are seeing similar visuals from Kerala.   Kochi airport was built on the flood plains of the Periyar River. There is good reason why it is called a floodplain. When the rains batter down, the area floods. These are but two example of development having run amuck on environmental concerns. There are many such tales from semi urbanising India. Those who work in rebuilding habitats after monstrous floods have washed away homes would tell you about settlements that come up on floodplains, on homes built next to the river; there are tales of buildings being built without reinforcement, and stories of hills being carved away, and trees being uprooted – to build something new for humanity. Every state has a story to tell about land mafias who indulge in indiscriminate quarrying, logging, and building on fragile ecosystems. All this is taking a toll.
The Gadgil committee report, rejected by every state impacted, talks about the fragile Western Ghats and why they need to be protected. Essentially, to protect us from the fury of nature. Each state has gone ahead and destabilised an already fragile ecosystem. With the ravages of nature in Kerala it is time for the centre and the states to dust out that report and internalise it.
India is a densely packed nation. Every natural disaster takes its toll in terms of lives, and property. With people’s aspirations, more land is demanded for a variety of needs – habitation, industry, farming, energy. As more and more land and other natural resources are consumed indiscriminately, the greater the danger to  the environment, and the people who stay in that environment. India is poised at breaking out of poverty. Every natural disaster the country faces, pushes people back into earlier cycles of development – combating basic issues of food, water, and habitation. A Reuters report earlier this year had indicated that India is the country most impacted by Climate Change. Given the double whammy of climate change impact, and man-made environmental disasters, the building of new infrastructure needs to be environmentally compliant. That means not trying to block the paths of rivers, or building on flood plains, or on the slopes of mountains – it means living as one with the environment, and heeding the voices of those who talk about conservation.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences.
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