India must strengthen natural defenses to combat climate change impact

The annual monsoon poses a persistent threat for millions of people and governments should do more to reduce the risk to life and property

Parvati Sasankan Oct 26, 2021
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Uttarakhand and Kerala flood devastation

The Southwest monsoon has left a trail of destruction in several districts of India's southern state of Kerala. There has been a significant loss of life and property.

The Indian monsoon is an invaluable resource that sustains hundreds of millions of people, but variations in its patterns and intensity pose a rising challenge. Kerala, which hosts a vast stretch of the Western Ghats, has to contend with these changes with almost no respite between severe spells. The recent mudslides are just like in 2018 which had killed many and caused severe destruction.

This year’s torrential rain, which has killed at least 35 people so far, is causing alarm as large reservoirs in mountainous reaches have started filling up fast, while the Northeast monsoon lies ahead. The government has responded by issuing alerts for several dams, including Mullaperiyar, and put in place plans to release water to avoid a repeat of the flooding witnessed three years ago.

Government needs to do more

The annual monsoon poses a persistent threat for millions of people and governments should do more to reduce the risk to life and property.
 
Nurturing the health of rivers, keeping them free from encroachments, protecting the integrity of mountain slopes by ending deforestation and incompatible construction hold the key.

The ecological imperative should be clear to Kerala, with successive years of devastation echoing the warnings in the Madhav Gadgil committee report on the Western Ghats. It’s high time Kerala goes through Gadgil and Kasturi Rangan’s report on the Western Ghats.

According to the Gadgil report, single commercial crops like tea, coffee, cardamom, rubber, etc. are the cause of soil erosion. Decommissioning of big projects like dams, thermal power stations that have completed their shelf life is a must. There is a need o desist from creating new hill stations, changing the land use from farmland to non-farmland and diversions of rivers in the western Ghats to save the ecology in the region.    

No preventive, curative action

Land may be an extremely scarce resource, but expanding extractive economic activity that can reduce forest cover is certain to cause incalculable losses. It should be evident to governments that it is dangerous to allow unscrupulous elements to pursue short-term profits at the cost of helpless communities.

Several people in Kerala opposed implementing the recommendations of Gadgil report in the state. The blame game has already begun but what’s the point if actions are not taken. Many shifted to relief camps and some have lost their house and livelihood.

Climate change is for real and it’s high time respective states and the center take action rather than have talks about climate change.

A more benign development policy should treat nature as an asset, and not an impediment. There must be accurately mapped hazard zones. There is a similar threat from extreme weather, breaking glaciers and cloudbursts to Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Several states face climate change impacts and extreme weather, and the response must be to strengthen natural defenses.  

(The writer is a Chennai-based journalist. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at parvati663@gmail.com)