As I was heading towards the end of my work day today, I chanced upon two articles on the internet.
The first article talked about Kashmir losing it’s agricultural land to rapid urbanization and how Srinagar’s wetlands have shrunk 50% in the last century thanks to a 12 times rise in its population in the same time period.
The other article was from a far off land called Benue in Nigeria. A “food bowl” of the country, the region is facing a flood situation driving the state into a crisis.
It’s not just these two places, cities and regions across the world are facing natural disasters. The crisis caused by hurricanes in US, especially Florida, Texas and other southern states is well known. Mumbai’s deluge in 2004 and Chennai ‘s deluge in 2017 exposed the lack of disaster readiness in these cities. Predominantly safe landlocked cities like Bengaluru are no more safe.
Rapid urbanization and unplanned urbanization have collectively brought these disasters to our doorsteps. Bengaluru, once a heavenly place that almost everybody loved, is now struggling for survival. An overnight rain causes it’s drains and lakes to overflow, flooding houses. Given that the city is situated about 960m above sea level on a plateau is also not helping it.
The general responses post such disasters include “The cities are not planned properly”, “They’ve encroached wetlands” etc. It’s quite easy to point fingers at our administration and claim that they are failing to tackle these issues, but there’s one question we are failing to answer. Do we, the human race, need to build such big cities?
A typical first settlement of urban civilization always happens in regions that are safe, with easy access to water and a climate that can help its survival. The trend in the last few centuries, however, has been to crowd these cities for various reasons including employment and better quality of life. Industrialization and globalized economy have collectively lead to mass urbanization and now we have agglomerations spreading over 100 kms. The constant demand for “better infrastructure” is placing extreme pressure on the administration to think of solutions that merely work as bandages on a leg infected with gangrene. Someday, the gangrene will grow beyond the bandage and spread to other parts, if the leg isn’t amputated in time.
Bengaluru once had a system of about a thousand lakes, a few hundred of them linked to each other by drains that ensured natural transportation of flood water. This system was built by the early settlers in the 16th and 17th century and the British administration developed it into a more robust system. Bangaloreans could wager a bet that they’ll be safe from all kinds of disasters and win it without a doubt. That doesn’t hold good now. We’ve allowed the city to grow beyond its naturally capable limits and the city’s just throwing up what it can’t digest. There’s garbage everywhere, trees planted by previous generations are being cut, a 10cm rain throws life out of gear. The problems are too many and nobody’s looking at a sustainable lifestyle except few scientists whose words don’t mean much for the political class and the bureaucracy.
We are allowing larger agglomerations destroying green belts around our cities. We want to support the ever-growing population by providing them all necessary infrastructure instead of creating such infrastructure at other smaller cities. We are widening our roads to accommodate more and more cars, agriculture is disappearing from cities’ outskirts because it’s not viable.
Today, Bengaluru gets its water from a river that flows 100 kms away and 100m below the city’s altitude. The amount if water that they pump from that river is not sufficient to meet the city’s needs even as two tributaries that were part of the city once are highly polluted and damaged beyond recognition. Most of its citizens are no longer aware that Vrushabhavati and Arkavathi are two rivers that once existed in Bengaluru Urban district. To meet the drinking water needs of the city’s burgeoning population, our qualified engineers are planning to pump water from the Western Ghats now, a chain of evergreen forests located 250kms west of the city.
Massive deforestation in the Western Ghats for eucalyptus, tea and coffee plantations have already altered the monsoon patterns in the regions surrounding the forests. Building more dams and altering nature’s course will only lead to more disasters.
There are solutions – we should really look at de-urbanization plans and as humans, it’s more important now, than ever in history, to reconnect with Mother Nature and bow to her powers than trying to bind her to control her. If not, this gangrene will only spread to our hearts and brains wiping us off completely.