Why can’t govt deal effectively with devastation caused by forces of nature, unleashed by climate change?

Many measures can be taken to prevent scale of devastation to life and property and provide relief to the affected. India clearly needs a comprehensive plan beyond the present ad hoc approach

Climate change makes Indian monsoon rains stronger
Climate change makes Indian monsoon rains stronger

Dr Gyan Pathak

All indications suggest that climate change is going to further worsen the rain and flood related human and livestock fatalities in India, apart from drowning of Indians that is the third largest cause of all accidental deaths in the country. Many states in the country from Arunachal Pradesh in the East to Gujarat in the West and from Himachal Pradesh in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South are suffering during this monsoon, and disaster management agencies are unable to deal with the situation and provide succour to distressed masses.

Over one million people stood affected by floods in Gujarat and five million in Assam until mid-July in 2022. Hundreds of people have already died across the country not only due to floods but also due to lightning, landslides, cloudbursts etc. Exact details of the livestock lost are not known yet, but according to rough estimates, these figures may be in millions.

Such things are happening in India year after year. We have been destroying our climate, and the climate change has been exacerbating the erratic rains. Quite clearly, while individual businesses and industries with little concern for the environment must share the blame for the climate change, flawed government policies are primarily responsible for it.

The scale of devastation is getting accelerated over time. Data given by Central Water Commission in Parliament of India pegged the damage caused by floods and heavy rains between 1953 and 2017 at around Rs 3782.5 billion. Besides this, 107,535 people were killed, over 80 million houses destroyed and about 466.4 million hectares of crops affected. Nearly, 30 per cent of the total damage was suffered by the farmers, and more than 6 million cattle perished.

Though heavy rain and flood are natural causes, the Union and state governments cannot shed their responsibilities for saving lives and livestock, especially after passage of National Disaster Management Act, 2005. Many measures can be taken to prevent the scale of devastation to life and property in the first place, and then in providing relief to the affected. India, in fact, needs a comprehensive plan beyond the present ad hoc approach to deal with the issues related to flooding and waterlogging.

A National Crime Records Bureau report titled ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2020’ is the latest available data that gives another alarming picture regarding deaths and destruction due to forces of nature. It mentioned 7,405 deaths in the country due to causes attributable to forces of nature. Out of these deaths, 38.6 per cent were caused by lightning and 13 per cent due to flood. The largest number of people struck dead by lightning was from Bihar that witnessed 436 deaths, followed by Madhya Pradesh (429), Jharkhand (336) and Uttar Pradesh (304).

The problem of lightning is specifically suffered by rural areas because the government is yet to provide for lightning conductors which can be installed easily in and around human habitations.

It should also not be out of place to mention here, especially in reference to climate change, that 10.5 per cent of accidental deaths happen due to exposure to severe cold in the country, and the victims are invariably poor and destitute persons. It should be a matter of shame for the government that it cannot prevent such deaths which can easily be done by providing proper shelter and warm clothes or blankets.

NCRB record for 2020 says that 46.1 per cent of victims who died due to accidents caused by forces of nature were reported to be belonging to the age-group of 30-45 years (24.5 per cent) and above 60 years (21.6 per cent). Moreover, these problems are not limited to rural area, since a total of 311 (4.2 per cent) deaths were reported from 53 mega cities of the country.

Deliberate and negligent conduct of people and the lack of skill for saving oneself from drowning is also a major cause of death in India. In all accidental cases (5,88,738), about 3,66,992 people died and 3,38,903 injured in 2020 as per the NCRB report. It mentions drowning as the third major cause of accidental death, accounting for about 10.1 per cent (37,238 in absolute terms), after traffic accidents and sudden deaths.

People also died by suicide by drowning themselves, but the figure stood at 5.2 per cent of all suicides (1,53,052) in 2020, a sharp increase from 1,39,123 in 2019. This aspect also calls for attention.

Where are the risks of drowning? A recent WHO report says that where there is water, there is the threat of drowning. Floods certainly increase the threat, and the number of people exposed to this hazard is rising with the increased frequency and severity of flood disasters and unplanned urbanization and other faulty developmental works carried out in rural India.

A WHO report has found that drowning risks increase with floods, particularly in low and middle-income countries where people live in flood-prone areas and the ability to warn, evacuate, or protect communities from floods is weak or only just developing.

Of course, India is among the vulnerable countries with a very large population living or working around the areas prone to flooding. Is it not possible for India to launch special programmes to enable the people to save themselves by swimming and other skills, providing them with equipment, enforce safety standards, and more perfect warning services, alerts and evacuation, and required reliefs?

(IPA Service)

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Published: 27 Jul 2022, 9:00 PM