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OPINION: The Kashmir tragedy – can we avoid the next one?


Elizabeth Gogoi and Mihir Bhatt of CDKN in an article for the Wall Street Journal discuss how to avoid mega floods becoming the ‘new normal’ in India.

Five days of heavy rain in the Kashmir valley has had a devastating impact. Almost 400 confirmed deaths so far across India and Pakistan, 600,000 people stranded and the number of roads, bridges, schools and buildings damaged too great to even start counting.

The true scale of the devastation is still emerging but the rolling footage on television news channels already tells a heartbreaking story. The state and federal governments and the army are making every effort to minimize the numbers affected. However, the fear is that the development gains made over the past decade during a time of relative peace in the fractious region, will be undone.

For Jammu and Kashmir, this is their worst flood in 100 years, according to the chief minister Omar Abdullah. However for the rest of India, mega floods of this type are unfortunately becoming ‘the new normal’.

The monsoon last year brought tragedy to nearby Uttarakhand when similar flash floods and landslides killed 4,500 people. Every year Assam is devastated by floods and river erosion and this year in just one district, 188 villages were submerged and 25,000 hectares of crops destroyed.

In the Hindustan Times one journalist poses the question of why we are not learning lessons from these tragedies, and comes to the conclusion that “disaster preparedness is just not there in our DNA”.

A new way of doing development is needed

However, before blame is pointed at any state or national government agency it is worth reflecting on the scale of the challenge India faces.

Climate change is responsible for the increasing trend in the number and intensity of extreme weather events (reiterated again this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their latest report).

However, an extreme weather event becomes a disaster when it hits assets and causes loss of life and livelihood. Even if climate change was not a factor, scientists tell us that disasters are getting more destructive as people are more exposed to floods and other such events.

Preparing for a disaster does not just mean putting in place early warning systems and protocols for evacuations. Preparedness is fundamental to the way we plan and do development.

Environmentalists and journalists are already starting to make claims about why the floods in J&K have caused so much destruction, highlighting deforestation in the catchment areas of rivers, unplanned construction in flood plains; rampant dumping of garbage in the rivers, and overuse of chemical fertilizers by farmers.

Development should protect against the risk of disasters, rather than increasing the risk. This requires understanding and acting upon disaster risk as part of the planning and decision-making processes across all sectors and all levels.

India’s 2005 Disaster Management Act calls for exactly this. So is it happening? Research from different states across India suggests progress is sporadic, uneven and only beginning.

Getting to grips with disaster risk

There are many well-documented reasons why planning and development continues to sideline the risks associated with natural disasters. (See CDKN’s Guide: “What does it take to mainstream disaster risk management in key sectors”)

But, there are also opportunities, and examples of when state, district or city governments in India are getting it right.

 

Continue reading the full article on the Wall Street Journal 

 

Elizabeth Gogoi is CDKN’s India Country Programme Manager and Mihir Bhatt is CDKN’s India Senior Advisor. For more information about CDKN’s work in India contact elizabeth.gogoi@cdkn.org 

Image courtesy of  WSJ/K.M. Chaudary/Associated Press

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