September 21, 2010

nature's fury: water water everywhere

  • Record water release from barrage; Yamuna is threatening to submerge low-lying Delhi;
  • 120 die in floods in UP, 70 in Uttarakhand; holy cities of Rishikesh and Haridwar in danger
  • Gandak breaches its embankment further; thousands of villages submerged
  • Tehri dam above danger level; dams unable to hold water; more water to be released
  • Trains cancelled; road and train lines washed away; threat of floods in vast UP plains
These are some of the headlines in today's papers.

There have been unprecedented rains this monsoon season in northern plains and hills and adjoining Nepal. The heavy rains could be due to a very active but normal monsoon or some major global climatic factor [one possibility, irregularity in jet streams: see here], but they are there.

The other related aspect is floods. Rains do not necessarily mean floods. But what is a flood? It is spread of water over areas where it should generally not be there. For ages, rivers of northern India are known to be in spate during monsoon season, marooning large areas around them. Since the plains have very little gradient, any excess water would spread to low-lying aread and take time to run off or get into the soil. Over years, we have squeezed the rivers into thin channels and when, once in a while, heavy rains come, water finds its way out of the channel into homes and fields. Nothing unusual from nature's point of view.

Next, the human misery. It arises out of floods and also erosion that the running water causes. Landslides in hills are common, especially because Himalayas have steep slopes and the hills are geologically weak. Heree too, we have our contribution:
In the hills: roads and all erosion and blasting of rocks that happens in making and maintaining roads on steep hills... habitations in landslide prone slopes where they should not have been... denudation of forests...
In plains: stopping of natural channels with rail tracks, roads, levelling of land for construction or farming...
In cities: poor drainage system... poor maintenance of drains and sewerage... poor planning, too much population and concrete construction that do not allow space for water to sink into the soil... construction deep into river banks...

Because as a society, we keep discretion at bay in natural resource use when we are not under stress, natural disasters happen out of nature's occasional excesses. We deal with them, individually and collectively, even think of solutions. But we forget them once the calamity is over, either because we have reached a point where correction and going back is not possible or becasue we do not want to make corrections.

So, wait for more natural disasters. Flood...pandemics...unusual cold wave...unusually hot summers...drought...storms......

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