We are witnessing drought in several parts of the country and floods in others. Both lead to immeasurable loss of human and animal lives and the ecosystems. Drought and floods both accentuate water crises and nutrient loss from agriculture land, a threat to our food security and our very existence. We are inching towards a deeper environmental crisis. Flood toll crossing 100 in Bihar, Assam and Meghalaya is a testimony to it.
If there’s a drinking water problem in Cherrapunji in Meghalaya, one of the highest rainfall areas in the world, there’s something seriously wrong. We saw both floods and drought in Chennai recently. What’s gone wrong and where’s it all leading to?
The sad part is natural calamities like flood and drought create a room for emergency spending of money and loot in the absence of checks and balances. The very forces of greed that foster floods and drought benefit during calamities.
Exhausted rhinos rest on a patch of dry land.-Image courtesy: Namibia Safaris.
Common sense, the need of hour. What’s needed is common sense to understand the root cause of the problem. Forests, agricultural land and wasteland have to absorb rain water and slowly release it to small streams, rivers and lakes. The absorption and slow release control the sudden surge of water in the rivers and the consequent floods. Slow release of water from the soil round the year ensures perennial streams and rivers and mitigates drought.
Women spend hours waiting for a few utensils of water.-Image courtesy: Alamy.
Floods are often man made
The vegetative cover and leaf litter on soil surface absorbs the impact of rainfall, allows time for percolation in the soil, cuts the velocity of flow and thereby prevents soil erosion. India has to work towards a comprehensive water management plan to scientifically design rain water harvesting structures that are region specific and based on hydro-geological studies with community participation. If the community is not involved the contract work will end up in corruption. Large water bodies lose water quickly to evaporation. This can be curtailed by creating small ponds, check dams, contour bunds and trenches. This will help conserve water and prevent soil erosion. Soil erosion and silting has drastically reduced the capacity of rivers and dams to hold water.
Chennai floods 2015.-Image courtesy: Mint.
Initiatives to mitigate future flood disasters
Unscientific road construction on the hills is leading to landslides and choking of rivers across India. Unscientific and reckless mining practices create vertical cracks in the hills that lead to aquifer leaks and depletion of surface water.
Change agriculture practices
Irrigation to produce rice, a staple food in major parts of India, is causing greater stress on water. There is an urgent need to change agriculture practices to control huge evaporation loss. An acre of paddy and sugarcane cultivation needs about 50 lakh to 80 lakh litres of water. Moreover, rice is the least water-efficient cereal. And now India is the third largest exporter of virtual water in the world in the form of rice. If we fail to recognise this, feeding the growing population and keeping them healthy will be a Herculean task.
As per the Global Hunger Index 2017, India ranks below North Korea. More than half of the women population in India suffer from anemia and the children suffer from chronic undernourishment. We have to shift to growing less water intensive rice varieties, other cereals that are less harmful to the environment and that meet the nutritional needs such as millets (Finger millet, Pearl millet and others). Roots and tubers that the tribal population in India was wise to feed on should be encouraged as a healthy diet. We have to go on a war footing to fight water, agrarian and environmental crises. We need many Gandhis to lead an ecological revolution, to protect the ecosystems, the people and the culture. Industrial thinking and materialism will only lead to violence and large scale destruction. Unfortunately our priorities are skewed. Even in the face of looming ecological disaster we are being unmindful participants in directionless politics and divisive religious acts and others. Awaiting tragedies will not wither away if we bury our heads in the sand.
By Stanley George – Co-Founder and Director, GoodEarth