By Pranav Prakash:
With sprawling beaches that are just a bus ride away from most parts of the city, the enamouring East Coast Road stacked with cafes and condos all along the route that leads to Pondicherry and forests – lush and compact – right in the heart of it all, Chennai was a city that I, like many others, was proud to call home. Having lived the last four years out of three suitcases in four different cities, one of the most endearing aspects of this place, for me, much after I’ve moved on, is the sense of safety and comfort that it imparts, something that even the capital hasn’t been able to match up to.
That which catapulted Chennai into the national limelight last December was the devastating flood that, as evident from the reactionary media coverage, was uncharacteristic, at India’s largest port in the Bay of Bengal; ironically, even now, the states of Assam and Bihar are being thrashed by the unforgiving might of the ancient Brahmaputra, the Ganga and the Kosi. The tepid reactions that these disasters receive, especially in contrast with the Chennai deluge of 2015, are perhaps the consequence of an unwitting acceptance of our incapacity to mitigate the effects of climate change in areas where such occurrences are so common that we stubbornly refuse to admit that our countervailing efforts are simply insufficient.
In Assam, a lot has been blamed on the explosive sprouting of residences, much closer to the river banks than they should be and supposedly more than they have historically ever been. Our infrastructure now seems to be pale in comparison to an antiquated consciousness that obeyed the boundaries of development, in deference to nature that today we pretend to have a mastery over.
Illegal residential and industrial structures over marshlands and water bodies appeared at an alarming rate in Chennai in the last decade. It would take nothing more than a prima facie analysis of some of the hardest hit complexes of the city to see how a lot of these projects have sprung up in catchment areas and in close proximity to other water bodies where they have no business of being built.
Another river-related controversy that has been gushing for the past few months is the allegation by the National Green Tribunal that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s Art of Living Foundation has caused massive damage to the Yamuna floodplain, during the World Culture Festival that took place in March earlier this year. An environmental compensation of Rs. 5 crores had been levied against the foundation towards ‘restoration, restitution and rejuvenation of the flood plains to its original status’. While the AoL has been fighting back, claiming that the purported damage is not backed by scientific data, how the event itself was allowed to happen in the first place is questionable.
All of these affairs are interlinked, not just by the fact that there exist robust policy directives to prevent or otherwise minimise the impact that they may have caused, but equally by the curious circumstances involving policy violations that, it could be argued, either led to or amplified their impact.
A recent study by Oxford University has estimated about 1.3 lakh climate change-related deaths in India alone, in the coming decades. After 195 nations at the COP-21 adopted a new international agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, a target that some have termed ambitious, the country will have to go to significant lengths in ensuring that global targets are met, particularly because targets are more challenging for all developing nations and the potential cost of failure to human life, for us, is enormous.
The heroism of the rescue efforts in Chennai captivated and inspired the country to combat natural disasters due to climate change head on. With the flood relief efforts in Assam and Bihar, heroism, not always extolled, is seasoned and consistent. For those of us who haven’t had to brave such calamities yet, the test of our gallantry lies in cementing the breaches between policy and implementation. Our climate change adaptation strategy, then, need only look where policy is overlooked.