Floods  in South Asia and Climate Change

pakistan floods

Havoc and misery  caused by recent floods in Bengaluru, Pakistan  and Assam are not only natural disasters  but are man made and due to climate change. Over exploitation  of urban land and water resources by greedy private real estate developers perhaps the chief cause of floods. Media relentlessly focused on  flooded upscale  villas, their swanky automobiles of super rich in flooded of Bengaluru, and totally ignored the suffering of  millions of poor and middle class  slum dwellers.

For the floods, politicians, media and civic administration simply blamed unprecedented huge volume of downpour in a very short interval, they failed to address key issues of climate change and unplanned urban planning. Major  cause for flooding  is  overflowing of Bellandur, Varthur, Saul Kere and Kaikondrahalli lakes in Bengaluru due  encroachment and cutting interconnectivity of water bodies. In 1800, Bengaluru of 740 sq km region had 1,452 water bodies with the water storage capacity of 35 TMC (thousand million cubic feet), which helped in optimally harvesting rainwater and also mitigated flooding. But today reduced to 193 lakes. Most of the area is encroached. Inter-connectivity due to blocking of storm water drains from lakes and their beds was encroached. The  unplanned urban urban development is the result of unholy alliance among corrupt politicians (both ruling and in opposition), civic administration and real estate land mafia. The corrupt alliance   paid deft ear to environmentalists and flouted long-term plans for short-term gains and leading lakes turned to layouts for realestate housing. Even arrested protesting  young climate activists like Ms. Ravi. This occurs in almost all major metro cities in our country. In fact, for long similar disasters are predicted by environmentalists and urban planners. They have highlighted and campaigned against encroachment of catchment areas of rivers, canals and lakes. In particular the destruction of natural lakes around Bangaluru city,  constructions in  lake beds and misplaced urban development plans catering to the demands of private developers. Added to this inadequate drainage system to match population size, has a direct impact on ability to cope with excessive rainfall.

Floods in Assam

The recent floods in Assam have claimed 174 lives apart from damaging crops in  2.35Lakh hectares and leaving 90 lakh people homeless. Floods in two river basins of Brahmaputra and Barak have occurred due to faulty flood control measures, population pressure, shrinkage of water-bodies, unregulated construction and skewed development strategies. Drainage congestion and choking of local water bodies, which had earlier served as an outlet for flood waters, are largely responsible for urban flooding Changing land use practices, rapid urbanization and expansion of human habitat all around, at the cost of natural waterways, have intensified the flood situation.

Floods in Pakistan

Moving on from Bengaluru, a much bigger crisis occurred in Pakistan recently. The scale of the devastation is hard to imagine. The visuals on TV screens are frightening. Millions of people wading through flood waters carrying whatever belongings, animals they could take along to safer places. Shortage of milk for children, vegetables and essentials is indescribable. one third of Pakistan is under water. Though both the neighbors are co-siblings and share similar weather and history, sadly the peoples misery is largely ignored in our country.

Intense heatwave and a long monsoon that has dumped a record amount of rain led to  rivers breaking their banks, flash flooding and glacial lakes bursting, Pakistan is experiencing its worst floods this century eventually displacing 33 million people and killed more than 1,200.

Melting Glaciers

Scientists say several factors have contributed to the floodhavoc. Due to severe heatwaves  during July and August warmer air held more moisture and resulted in unprecedented heavy rains. Pakistan has received almost three times its average annual rainfall for the monsoon period. The southern provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan have received more than five times that average. Pakistan get more glacial ice than anywhere outside the polar regions. Due to rapid global warming glaciers of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regions melted rapidly. Thus creating more dan 3,000 lakes The intense heat also melted glaciers in the northern mountainous regions, increasing the amount of water flowing into tributaries that eventually make their way into the Indus river. The Indus is Pakistan’s largest river, and runs the length of the country from north to south, feeding towns, cities and large swathes of agricultural land along the way. Several glacial lakes have burst through the dams of ice that normally restrain them, releasing a dangerous rush of water down in to valleys.

glacier

Pic. A glimpse of Pakistan’s geography located amidst the Himalayan glaciers

Climate change

Pakistan is bearing the brunt of the climate crisis despite ‘small carbon footprint. It doesn’t really produce carbon dioxide and other harmful gases and is not contributing to the greenhouse effect. Though developed Western nations generate nearly two thirds of toxic green house gases, but developing nations are facing the brunt of  climate change. Scientists warn that extreme rainfall events in this area have become more intense and as the planet warms we expect that trend to continue. Sustainable relation between human society needs  land and water resources democratically accessible to community away from profiteering by a few individuals. This helps to restore equilibrium in ecology.

Having experienced recently  unusually  high temperaturesin Europe and North America, it’s high time developed nations must make the transitions and follow through on the pledges they have made at COP, from Paris to now.

Dr. Soma Marla, Principal Scientist,retd.ICAR, NewDelhi.

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