Recent floods in the areas of South Pune city were a grim reminder to slow down and think about the impact of our actions on our surroundings. Women and girls cleaning the muddy houses, distress in the eyes of shop-owners due to property loss, anguish due to car and bike damage, the agony of cattle owners due to cattle loss were common scenarios in the city.
Disasters cause distress on various levels like loss of human and cattle lives; some people lose their homes, damage of vehicles and appliances, disruption in public services like water and electricity, non-availability of health care provisions, closure of educational institutions, loss of business. While these are tangible impacts, there are intangible effects which go unnoticed and are not counted in economic loss: the forceful migrations which disrupt lives in many ways, school dropouts increase, the women being burdened for disaster relief work, their wage loss (the girl child accompanies her mother and has to skip school), severe spread of epidemics, among others.
While a part of India faces floods, the other part is facing drought-like conditions. This points to poor water management in India as is evident in the NITI Aayog report, which states that India is facing the worst water shortage in history. Even the quality of available water poses trouble as two lakh people die each year due to lack of access to safe water in India (NITI Aayog report). Another UNICEF report, states that globally, around 2,000 children under the age of five die every day due to contaminated water and diarrhoea.
The above issues bring our attention to the causes of such colossal and diverse losses. The human-induced climate change is the major cause for the multitude of issues we face today. Various industries pollute air and water sources and cause environmental damage. Mining and construction activities obstruct the flow of rivers and canals. Increasing consumerist tendencies lead to a “use and throw” habit and generates piles of waste which obstruct the water flow. The mismanagement of water is prevalent from the NITI Aayog report, according to which, about 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020. The localized, yet extreme rainfall pattern is another reason for flash floods, for example, the Kedarnath floods in India.
On the global level, countries like Britain, Scotland and Ireland have declared a climate change emergency. Other countries should also walk the talk of the Paris climate change conference. The UK government has pledged to make it a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
India has drafted ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. Efforts should be taken for effective and timely implementation of these SDGs. On the student level, the MHRD scheme “Samagra Shiksha-Jal Suraksha” to promote water conservation activities among school students will be useful. Indian traditional water harvesting culture should be encouraged, for instance, the Jal Swavalamban Abhiyan of Rajasthan and the Swajal project in Uttar Pradesh.
As the famous quote goes, “we do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”, now is the time for action and collective efforts. Else we will end up indebted to tomorrow’s children and never be able to pay back.