No Lessons Learnt as System Apathy Continues in Assam Floods

Debate is on for long if Assam is more blessed or cursed as because of Brahmaputra more than 40 per cent of its surface area is highly susceptible to flood damages.

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Floods every year cause so much destruction in Assam and as per govt. estimates losses due to flood and erosion is around 12000 crores. According to data released by the Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), 2017 has been the worst of the last four years in terms of floods.

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This year, about 2,450 villages have been already affected by floods and more than 1.7 million people across the districts of Lakhimpur, Biswanath, Karimganj, Kokrajhar, among others, displaced.

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And the biggest worry is that two third of The monsoon season is still left to go. And whenever you visit these flood affected Brahmaputra river basin communities you only wonder on how can lives of these communities ever improve as they get destroy by floods ever year.

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 System is totally clueless, aimless and has no spine in checking either destruction of floodplains or encroachments in name of development and even repairing or maintenance of embankments is not a priority as a lot of money is made  by the system at the time of flood relief.

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Communities mostly blames dams for worsening these floods and there is hardly any warning system in place to prepare them well in advance. During monsoon many areas get inundated by the rivers and become inaccessible, when boat becomes the only means of communications.

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Even these communities are so marginal, so deprived that they can hardly raise their voice against any system apathy or systemic failures as their all focus and energy is on earning a daily livelihood.

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NGOs are doing a lot of good work in flood prone areas be it sponsoring of model DRR structures like raised water handpumps, toilets to trainings on resue and relief, early warning systems to continuous support in relief, rehab phases.

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We have to learn from traditional coping practices of floods used by indigenous communities and push other communities living in flood-prone areas to adopt them.

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In Lakhimpur flood affected district I came across many Houses near river lowland on concrete pillars with bamboo platforms. And in some cases  they made this houses in such a way so that at time of flood the people can easily unbolt the bamboo structures, load on a country boat and keep them on embankments or shelter camps on high areas and reconstruct them once the flood is over.

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Over the years intensity of floods has increased a lot as more area is getting eroded, more people getting affected  and yet for governments its still business as usual. We need a river policy with stringent legal framework that can check on this model of unsustainable development, flood plain encroachments to culture of dams. Also communities has to manage and need to stake their claim to these scare water resources and we can’t let this corporate-government nexus to play more havoc with ecosystem.

 

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Challenges & Gaps in Implementation of Swachh Bharat Campaign

PM Modi has energized the sanitation moment in India with Swachh Bharat Campaign. While launching the Swachh Bharat Mission at Rajpath in New Delhi, He said, “A clean India would be the best tribute India could pay to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150 birth anniversary in 2019. It is critical for us as millions of people in India lack access to safe drinking water and also defecate in the open. Over 600,000 children under 5 years lose their lives to water and sanitation related diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia every year. So on 2nd October 2014, Swachh Bharat Mission was launched nationwide and it involves from construction of latrines, promoting sanitation programmes in the rural areas, cleaning streets, roads and in a way improving the overall standard of living. The aim of the mission is to cover all the rural and urban areas of the country to make this country as an ideal country. The mission has targeted aims like eliminating the open defecation, converting insanitary toilets into pour flush toilets, eradicating manual scavenging, complete disposal and reuse of solid and liquid wastes, bringing behavioural changes to people and motivate health practices, spreading cleanliness awareness among people, strengthening the cleanliness systems in the urban and rural areas as well as creating user friendly environment for all private sectors interested for investing in India for cleanliness maintenance. Government is committed to & has allocated funds in Budget and  through Swachh Bharat cess service tax by .5% on all the services in India.

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India accounts for 60% of the world’s open defecation and in that context campaign has set the tempo, but on the ground the progress of toilet construction in comparison to set targets is at a snail’s pace. Two years down the line, government statistics reveal that it has a long way to go before the goal of eliminating open defecation can be achieved. Inadequate funds, lack of capacity of municipalities and district panchayats to undertake this massive task, an ineffective awareness campaign that has failed to bring about behavioural changes among the people to use latrines, are among some of the reasons that are derailing the ambitious mission. The less than enthusiastic response from the private sector to take up toilet building has added to woes of the government.

The total budget of mission to make India clean is around whopping ₹133,000 crore over five years. But sadly the union budget slashed the allocation for SBM to ₹2,625 crore from the ₹4,260 crore allocated in 2014-15. The government tried to fill funding gap through a number of initiatives such as imposing a special Swachh Bharat Cess, activating the Swachh Bharat Kosh to tap Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)  funds and getting states to pony up money from the increasing share of taxes and duties they will get from this year. But all these initiatives don’t seem sufficient to manage required funds. This year in 2016, government has allocated Rs 9,000 crore for Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in general Budget for 2016-17. The Budget 2016-17 has earmarked Rs 9,000 crore for rural areas, while Rs 2,300 crore for the urban areas.

We even don’t have enough manpower or trained personnel to carry out this mission. The larger challenge is that of lack of trained human resources at every level, which has led to sub-optimal performance of mandated bodies like the State Water and Sanitation Missions and District Water and Sanitation Missions. To enable the creation of organic demand for sanitation among communities, SBM emphasises creating foot soldiers termed as Swacchata Doots but after nearly two years still in urban areas we have not even identified 15% of desired Swachhata Doots. There is a big gap in capacity of municipal bodies, which are primarily responsible for collection, transportation and treatment of both solid and liquid waste in urban areas. According to government data, only around 15% of solid waste is processed, indicating how under-equipped municipal bodies are to handle the mammoth task. And we are carelessly distributing Smart City tags that should have been gone to municipal bodies that are implementing Swachh Bharat mission effectively.

Changing behaviours is a huge challenge and requires engagement of community-based organisations and community leaders to make it work. IEC should make use of local cultures, motivations and belief systems to outreach the sanitation moment. One big gap that I have personally noticed is that there is no accountability and like in panchayats mukhiya has to be made accountable for construction & usage of these toilets. More importantly, hygiene education needs to be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum, as opposed to leaving it to the discretion of State Education Boards to decide whether or not they want to include it.

Time is running out and the Mahatma’s 150th birth anniversary is only three years away. The SBM should not become yet another mere renaming of scheme and we have to place a system of accountability to ensure that. And if we fail this time than legislation will be the only route to ensure toilet & minimum sanitation & hygiene standard in every home.  Swachh Bharat mission will deliver only if the implementation is focused, time-bound and dedicated funding is made available. Regular monitoring and handholding of municipalities is also crucial. There is need to bring about a toilet usage culture through a sustained & geographically suited awareness campaigns. The campaign has to be run in a participatory mode and people have to take its ownership and that can only make the programme successful.

 

Let World Environment Day be a commitment

World Environment Day is just symbolic for us as our government is so callous to environment the way condition of Ganga, Yamuna & many other rivers is because of pollution, encroachments & unplanned dams. Also our paradigm of unsustainable development of giving a free hand to corporate for mining, sand plants and various other development projects in which they can erase forest anyway.

                      

And the biggest irony is even most of people are not at all environment conscious; they don’t support public transport systems, energy & water efficient systems. We talk of great culture heritage but there was no sanitation, hygiene and civic sense in it and modi ji loves to rename schemes but swachh bharat campaign is in practice since 1999 and then it used to be called Total Sanitation Campaign. And we can never plan for future like our cities are most polluted because of petrol & diesel fuel vehicles, Coal thermal plants but there is no immediate plan to shift to clean fuel, energy or upgrade public transport with electric buses. Chennai flood clearly showed how insensitive, clueless our systems in place are or be it the ineffectiveness of our environment regulations. Well it is to be seen in these times of changing climate how long it will take for smart cities to come in practice and how soon can we phase out coal power plants & how effective ambitious wind & solar energy missions are going to be.

Is Chennai Flood a wake up call for Delhi

Chennai flood is a wakeup call and in a potent way unveiled that how vulnerable we are making ourselves through this paradigm of unsustainable development. We are encroaching our floodplains, water bodies everywhere for development activities and same is the case in Delhi where we have built Common Wealth Game Stadium , metro station, real estate’s on Yamuna flood plains. There is no city planning , regard for environmental norms & we all know the extent of Yamuna pollution & decades of inaction to revive it.

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Delhi is the most polluted city in world because of govt. inaction of delaying a effective public transport system. Even their idea of public transport is shortsighted one as they are going with CNG buses instead of opting for pollution free battery powered buses or electric buses. They can be innovative & can go for trams to end monopoly of these cars & personal vehicles that has made our lungs restless. Also the construction mania is on full scale in every part of city & there is hardly any ecological consideration in that. No construction norms are followed & respective authorities are bribed to have their way. So transition from corporate- politician nexus of real estate’s to smart cities is a distant dream. I can’t even say that city is any cleaner because of swachh bharat campaign as most of our flagship campaigns works at a snail’s pace. We needed a simple legislation with a will to enforce it to fine heavily the people who spits, urinates or throw wastes in public places. It’s so annoying to see that even after 68 year of independence we are still struggling with these basic amenities. Our society has to be proactive and have to ensure that present development model is in sync with changing climate scenario & well being of future generations.

Mesmerising Ladakh

Ladakh is simply incredible and is an unforgettable experience of beautiful mountains changing colours and hues; barren landscape for hundreds of miles and the ultimate cold desert….so serene & so enchanting. Ladakh is a high altitude cold desert region in northern most part of India. It straddles the Himalayan and Karakorum mountain ranges and the upper Indus River valley. It is bounded on the north & east side by the China, in the north-west by Pakistan & in western side by Kashmir Valley, alongwith state of Himachal Pradesh which touches its border.

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Ladakh is a place where earth & sky seem to meet and it looks like the roof of the world. Ladakh is geographically important as only sources of water are melting glaciers and minimal snowfall. Precipitation is very low with annual precipitation of 10cm mainly in form of snow. So, these mountain areas are particularly sensitive to climate change as relatively small alternations in temperatures can have severe impact on water supply, agriculture-based livelihood and infrastructure.

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For Ladakh,the real challenges in face of climate change are unpredictable weather, floods, and the prospects of diminished water supply from glacial melt.

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Ladakhi communities are seeing the changes in climate as early melting of zanskar frozen trek, heavy rains & flash floods, advance in summers, damage to crops & plantations, soil erosion, attack of locusts in Changthang area, heavy snowfall, rising water level of Pangong & Tsomoriri Lake, changing migration pattern & early arrivals of birds & change in adaptation. The Indus Canal constructed at huge expense by government has turned into a white elephant, as there is no sufficient water in Indus.

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The mountain areas like Ladakh are more vulnerable to even a small change in climatic conditions as shown by the devastating floods of 6 August 2010 in Ladakh where more than 150 people died & 500 went missing.These flash floods triggered by torrential rains all because of changing climate, left a trail of death and destruction. And a scenic Landscape turned into a disaster zone. How can the extreme events like heavy rainfall, flash floods be justified in a cold desert region with a annual precipitation of only 10cm!

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Diakonie, Katastrophenhilfe, Germany’s Project Adaptation to Climate Change and Capacity Building for Disaster Preparedness / Prevention in Remote Villages in the Fragile Western Himalayan Ecosystem of Ladakh (2008-2009) in terms of policy and methodology was to study the impact of climate change on water resources & its further affects on agriculture & livelihood & how the communities are adapting to these erratic changes. A abroad based programme, beside participatory study & survey it also seeks to expand and improve disaster preparedness and management.

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Receding Zanskar Glacier

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Receding Zanskar Glacier

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Receding Zanskar Glacier

So adaptation & capacity building through sustainable water management systems is critical for survival of Ladakh Himalayas. The project underlines various adaptive measures taken by people   – organic farming, water harvesting through reservoirs & innovative techniques like artificial glaciers for water harvesting beside recharging ground water and reviving water bodies- lakes & wetlands through restoration of forests.

Floods in Bihar 2013

Every year for  millions in Bihar life comes to a standstill due to floods which destroys their possessions and for many their lives will never be the same again. And people continue to struggle for their basic needs year after year due to floods but governments or local administration never steps in advance and  prepare for disaster so that they can save more lives & property.Bihar floods have caused death of 160 people and 5.4 million have   been   affected   in   this   year 2013   flood   according to  disaster management authority. As many as 20 districts of Bihar were affected with floods of which the river Ganga  wreaked havoc in ten districts like Patna, Bhojpur, Buxar, Saran,Bhagalpur, Katihar, Vaishali, Begusarai.

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Flood ravaged areas & its affects on peoples lives

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Swamped huts and flooded farms

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Marooned and cutoff houses due to floods

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People managing their chores in a flood hit village

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Flooded Houses

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Extremely damaged & almost wiped out house by flood waters

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Flooded Schools and education receiving a hit

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Flooded Schools and education receiving a hit

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Flooded Schools and education receiving a hit

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Flooded Shops and affected businesses

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Innovative system for flood transport

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Innovative system for flood transport

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Affected drinking water sources- handpump by floods

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Isolated or cutoff cottage by floods

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Huts Marooned by flood waters

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A lady taking fodder for animals through flooded water

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Affected People living on road side for weeks after their village was overrun by flood waters

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Flood affected People taking shelter on roads

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Snapped Road Communications & NDRF Man in action

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Sad to cover  and see people suffering from floods in Bihar but amazingly they fight back on their own without any support from administration & seems like they are now used to floods.

Remembering Kedarnathji

Kedarnath cloud burst &  flash flood disaster rattle us all & some of us who had been there are finding it difficult to come to terms with it.  I mean how can a place which for past has been a source of strength and peace of mind for billions of followers can cause so much destruction.

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I had good memories of Kedarnathji when i visited it  in last week of September 2007 as it was so beautiful so peaceful with happy pilgrims all around and now when i look it in news only shrine is intact but destruction is all around.

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Still so many people are missing & exact number of causalities is not known as their is no process off registration of tourists at any checkpost or in temple and hotels are also not sincere with records but sadly most of them were washed out. So the irony is that we dont even know the exact number of tourists or pilgrims visited, trapped or swept away.  And the magnitude of such disasters is so high as we live in today & never planned for tomorrow & when something like this happened we are totally clueless & at the mercy of nature. Our national disaster response force is still  at nascent stage & is hardly posted anywhere in Himalayas as due to our no governance model we are taking too long to place systems in place which is leading to more chaos in such disasters. Only silver lining in these disasters is our forces lik army airforce which u can always rely on & deliver it well  though they also need to be modernize to bring urgency & efficiency in such operations. I wish we had learnt something from cloud burst & flash flood disaster of Ladakh in 2010 which was on similar lines may be we could have saved more lives.