The Deluge In Kerala And Nature’s Not So Gentle Reminders To Us

It is looking like the wrath of the Gods is upon their own country. Kerala is in a deluge of Bibilical proportions. The ongoing rains and the ensuing floods are being compared with the Great Flood of the Bible. I am marooned in the city of Thrissur with no option to travel anywhere. The highways towards the south of Kerala are all flooded. Towards the north where roads have been built through the Western Ghats, mud slides are happening in addition to the accumulating water. Roads are shut, railways lines are inundated with water and airport runways are flooded. For me this is not a natural but a manmade disaster.

One of the most critical parameters of measuring and classifying ancient cities as developed and advanced are it’s irrigation and drainage systems. The question is how efficiently did they bring water into the cities from water bodies and how did they manage to take the water out from the cities. All great civilizations of the past were located in the vicinity of the biggest rivers. If we take the same parameters and apply them to our cities  and towns then we would realize how woeful their conditions are.

None of India’s big cities are planned, rather most of the cities and towns in India are unplanned ones. They got expanded based on the burgeoning population. Now, earth can be divided into hard grounds and low lying areas. Low lying areas are preferred for cultivation because of the ability of those lands to hold on to water. Hard grounds are preferred for construction. As population grows, so does the need for land grows. We inadvertently started taking up the low lying lands for construction. Low lying lands have been getting inundated with water for centuries or thousands of years so doing construction on them is plain madness even if mud is put on top of them and flattened out before doing the construction.

What is happening with the flood in Kerala is very simple. There are two reasons for the flooding. If we look at the flood affected areas being broadcast on TV channels, water bodies, primarily rivers have overflowed. River water is flowing water and it is looking to continue it’s momentum of flowing. But what it encounters on the way is our towns and cities. There is nowhere for water to go so it gets stuck. The bigger reason is with the dams. Yesterday news channels were reporting that Sholayar dam in Tamil Nadu became full so they opened it’s gates which in turn flooded the Mullaperiyar dam and opening it has caused the floods to worsen. Every time environmental activists make a hue and cry when governments comes out with a proposal for a dam, this is what they are trying to highlight. What comes out of the dams are massive quantities of held up water and this is very different from normal flooding caused by rivers.

So where will all this water go? There are three ways. Flow out which is not an option anymore because it does not have anywhere to flow which is why it is stuck. Then it has to go up or down. Up means sun has to evaporate the water. But this is monsoon season so there is not much help that can be expected from the sun because the monsoon clouds are hanging over it. The other way is down, into the earth. But we have replaced earth with tar and concrete both of which cannot absorb water. Water will try to flow to the low lying areas as it is used to but we have occupied those places as well with our construction so flooding is inevitable. The same has been happening in Mumbai every year. The same happened during the flood in Chennai. After 3 years of weak monsoon season in Bangalore, in 2004, it rained one day and I was caught right in the middle of it. The rain and wind were ferocious and in about 2 hours of rain entire areas were flooded. There was nowhere for water to go. Add to it the incompetency of the corporation and drainage were not cleaned and the rains had actually punctured holes on the roads. During the flood in Chennai, my friend was telling me that water levels had risen to 7 ft and more at many places. Why is this happening? Simply because water has nowhere to go. The walls of the Kochi airport have been brought down to drain out the water accumulated on the runway. All of these are man made constructions done without considering and caring about nature which have consequently disturbed the flow of nature.

It would be ridiculous to blame nature and Gods for this disaster. I was taught in school that Kerala and Cherapunji are the places which gets the highest rainfall in India. Monsoon seasons in Kerala have traditionally been moderately to extremely heavy every year. The intensity has waxed and waned in the last decade or so. The process of water going up by evaporation and coming down later as rain plays one of the most critical roles in nurturing an ecosystem on our planet that is conducive for life forms to live and evolve. No other living being goes against the rules of nature, especially disturbing and destroying nature for it’s own needs. This is not nature’s wrath or God’s punishment, this is nature following it’s rules and we are paying for coming in it’s way.

Nature has no empathy or compassion towards the inhabitants on the planet. The rule is simple. Adhere to nature’s rules and ways or suffer. Nature has no sympathy for the lives that are being lost in natural calamities. Animals and birds have their senses fine tuned to nature so they know well in advance if a disaster is approaching. If floods are coming, they instinctively move towards higher grounds. We are totally out of tune with nature. We are not part of nature’s food chain which is why our population has grown so much. In the name of development with zero planning and understanding of nature we are on a collision course with nature.

Natural disasters for me are nature’s way of reminding us that though we have been able to become the most dominant species on the planet, we can never become dominant over nature. I hope we realize it before its too late that when nature cannot handle anymore of the destruction and imbalance we are causing to it’s ecosystem and existence it will go ahead and expunge us from it’s belly just like we vomit out what our stomach cannot handle.

Advertisements

Bangalore – Epitome of urban destruction

The growth and development of humanity in the modern age kick started from the time of Renaissance. The hub of all new thoughts and ideas was Europe and it was the Silicon Valley of sorts back in the days. Colonial powers carried the ideas and the mindset with them as they traveled and took control of lands across the world. It intensified as we made rapid advances in technology in the late 19th and 20th centuries. But something else also happened at that time. Humanity went completely out of sync with nature and we declared war on the ecosystem that had nurtured us from the time we were created. The consequences have been nothing less than disastrous and no place can exemplify this better than Bangalore.

My tryst with the city started way back in 1997 when I made an impromptu visit to meet an alumni from college to get ideas about the project I had to do in my final year of engineering. It was raining heavily that morning and after I reached my friend’s house and removed my shoes, I couldn’t keep my feet on the floor. It was that cold. I was in the city only for a day and the little bit I saw of the city was all lush green. One thing I remember distinctly is, M G Road, one of the busiest roads of Bangalore was a two way road. Millennium kids would say, impossible. From then on, I have been in the city every year till I moved and stayed here for 6 years. Through those years, I have seen and felt the city starting to change and lose it’s pulse. When I eventually moved out of the city, I had the inkling that the city was starting to become unlivable. Now I am back in the city after 5 years and what I foresaw was not wrong.

Before I go into the forlorn part of my story, let me relive the glory days of the city. From my childhood, I had heard of people going on honeymoon trips to Ooty, Mysore and Bangalore. As I  dug deeper and spoke to more people, I was blown away into bits. Everything about the past of Bangalore converged on to one fact in my mind. The peak summer temperature in Bangalore used to be 17 degree Celsius in the 1960s and 70s and people used to sit in their porches and balconies hoping to get some sunlight. I will never be able to wrap my mind around this. A black sweater used to turn white with snow flakes after riding on a scooter for some distance. Bangalore used to be a no fan zone in those times. All these stories come from people who used to work with the armed forces and were stationed in Bangalore during the 1970s. Now, the peak summer temperature is hovering around 40 degree Celsius. The fact that temperature has rocketed up by more than 20 degrees in 3 decades is astounding. But what is incredible to me is the reality that human beings can tamper with nature to such extremities.

It all started in the early 1990s when the central government decided to open Software Technology Parks (STPIs) to promote India as the new Silicon Valley for software companies and sought Kerala as the destination. That plan did not materialize and the state government of Karnataka welcomed the initiative with open hands. Bangalore being the capital city got chosen by default. This is how the whole saga of mindless destruction of the city began. When I came to Bangalore to meet my alumni in 1997, his work place was a house that was used as office space. That is how it started. IT companies started moving in and started to function out of any available buildings and real estate went into overdrive. The vast swathe of agricultural land in the south part of Bangalore was the prime target. It swung the state government machinery into frenzy as well to provide roads, water, electricity and other amenities to the new office spaces.

The primary problem of Bangalore is that from a calm and peaceful city for honeymooners, it has become a totally unplanned city of chaos in such a short period of time. People from all over India have moved into the city bringing with them their unique culture and way of living and the city has had to imbibe all of it in such a short span of time. And the result? Booming business, from food to attire to everything else to cater to all cultures, adding more chaos to the situation and piling on more pressure on the city’s resources. Land and trees had to go to make way for roads and when roads couldn’t manage traffic any more, flyovers had to be built. Now that even flyovers are not able to manage the ever burgeoning traffic, metro rail is getting built. That in a way has been the final nail in the coffin. Whatever greenery was remaining on M G road had to be cleared for the metro. As the work keeps expanding to connect all corners of the city as per plan, it will devour most of the feeble natural resources the city has left in it’s belly. There are two more significant issues. The cost of land has shot up so astronomically, most local residents of Bangalore have chosen to sell off their properties and move out of the city. Migrant people will never have the love or respect for a place that it’s local residents will have and I believe this is a major factor in the wanton destruction of the city. The other one is the exodus of fresh graduates who finish college and move to Bangalore every year. Government has sold education to the private sector and neither government nor the private sector is able to keep up with the increasing demand for jobs with each passing year. Bangalore has become the de facto place to hunt for jobs for all graduates now and every year the city is getting stretched more at it’s seams.

Bangalore is in the rush to adopt two issues that are plaguing the major cities of India. Water and garbage and issues with both are in direct correlation to the fact that Bangalore has become an unplanned city. When I say water, it is not just access to clean drinking water. Most of the lakes Bangalore used to be proud of till 2 decades back have disappeared. I remember one particular bout of rain on a day in 2004 when I was in office. The city was clogged everywhere. Why? The water bodies to where the water could have drained were all gone. There was no earth left to absorb water. Concrete and tar do not absorb water. Where else will the water go? This is what caused the flood in Chennai last year. The memorable part was when the lakes surrounding the office premise of Infosys overflowed and water was flowing down the stairs of the building like waterfalls.

The amount of garbage humanity produces in a single day is mind boggling. Add to it the fact that a lot of the garbage is not bio degradable which means nature cannot or will take considerable time to recycle them.  Near the banks of the lake where I go for my morning walk now I see waste bags floating around with foul smell emanating from them. I don’t know how much time is left before the fishes and birds disappear from the lake. People throw their garbage openly near the pavements on streets and everything lies scattered for the corporation employees to come and clean up the mess every morning. People don’t even stop to think for a moment that the city is being maintained with the same money they are paying as taxes. But then what happens to all the garbage? It gets dumped on the outskirts or some other parts of the city, thereby spreading the dangerous affliction of the city and polluting those areas as well.

Time has proved my decision to not buy an apartment in Bangalore as correct. Recent reports suggest that this place is hurtling towards the notoriety of becoming the first dead Indian city in the next 5 years (http://share.safe3g.com/h5/news.html?r=3&lan=en_IN&pid=3&id=12506759&detail=1&ch=0). I am having to cover myself up completely including my face every time I step out now to get some respite from dust and pollution. Repercussions from nature is not so far away. Unless the government takes firm measures to offload business to other places and water down Bangalore’s reputation as job seeker’s paradise, the situation will only keep deteriorating. Any further inaction and they can get ready to rule the first dead city of the country.