[op-ed snap] To be an environmental world power

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Mains Paper 3: Disaster and disaster management

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Attached story is full of small facts to be noted at a glance

Mains level: The newscard critically examines India’s role in mitigating impacts of climate change.


Context

Cross-border environmentalism is crucial for South Asia, but India is not inclined to take the lead

  1. Ecological ruin is on a gallop across South Asia, with life and livelihood of nearly a quarter of the world’s population affected.
  2. Yet, our polities are able to neither fathom nor address the degradation.
  3. The distress is paramount in the northern half of the subcontinent, roping in the swathe from the Brahmaputra basin to the Indus-Ganga plain.
  4. The erosion of civility in geopolitics keeps South Asian societies apart when people should be joining hands across borders to save our common ground.
  5. Because wildlife, disease vectors, aerosols and river flows do not respect national boundaries, the environmental trends must perforce be discussed at the regional inter-country level.
  6. As the largest nation-state of our region, and the biggest polluter whose population is the most vulnerable, India needs to be alert to the dangerous drift.

China: Doing better

  1. China has been resolutely tackling air pollution and promoting clean energy.
  2. But while Beijing’s centralised governance mandates environmentalism-by-decree, the subcontinental realities demand civic participation for sustainability to work.

Demand for Collaboration

  1. Bihar is helping destroy the Chure/Siwalik range of Nepal to feed the construction industry’s demand for boulders and conglomerate, even though this hurts Bihar itself through greater floods, desertification and aquifer depletion.
  2. Wildlife corridors across States, provinces and countries are becoming constricted by the day, but we look the other way.
  3. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has chosen India to be the ‘host country’ to mark World Environment Day today.
  4. But there is a need for greater participation by India

Rivers into Sewers

  1. In the hills, the Ganga in Uttarakhand and the Teesta of Sikkim are representative of rivers that have been converted into dry boulder tracts by ‘cascades’ of run-of-river hydroelectric schemes.
  2. The same fate now threatens the rivers of Nepal and India’s Northeast, while the tributaries of the Indus were ‘done in’ decades ago through water diversion.
  3. Everywhere, natural drainage is destroyed by highways and railway tracks elevated above the flood line, and bunds encircling towns and cities.
  4. Reduced flows and urban/industrial effluents have converted our great rivers into sewers

Sea-Level Rise

  1. Climate change is introducing massive disturbances to South Asia, most notably from the rise of sea levels.
  2. The entire Indian Ocean coastline will be affected, but the hardest hit will be the densely populated deltas where the Indus, the Irrawaddy and the Ganga-Brahmaputra meet the sea.
  3. To understand this imminent phenomenon, one may recall what the Farakka Barrage did to livelihoods in downstream Bangladesh, causing the flood of ‘undocumented aliens’ in India.

Brown Cloud

  1. The retreat of the Himalayan glaciers is jeopardising the perennial nature of our rivers and climate scientists are now zeroing in on the ‘atmospheric brown cloud’ to explain the excessive melting of snows in the central Himalaya.
  2. This high altitude haze covers the Indo-Gangetic plains for much of the dry season and penetrates deep into the high valleys.
  3. This cloud is made up of ‘black carbon’ containing soot and smog sent up by stubble burning, wood fires, smokestacks and fossil fuel exhaust, as well as dust kicked up by winter agriculture, vehicles and wind.
  4. It rises up over the plains and some of it settles on Himalayan snow and ice, which absorb heat and melt that much faster. It is no longer anecdotal that the icefalls of the Himalaya could before long transform into waterfalls.

Cold Wave  

  1. The ground-hugging fog that engulfs the subcontinent’s northern plains for ever-extended periods in winter, a result of the spread of canal irrigation and simultaneous increase in the presence of particulate matter in the air.
  2. This inattention to the indescribable distress of millions of the poorest and shelter-less of the plains is hard to comprehend.

The Way Forward

  1. Tomorrow’s activists must work to quantify the economic losses of environmental destruction and get local institutions to act on their ownership of natural resources.
  2. The activists must harness information technology so as to engage with the public and to override political frontiers, and they must creatively use the power of the market itself to counter non-sustainable interventions.
  3. Work towards ecological sustainability must go beyond ritual, with the path seeming to lie in the empowerment of local government all over.
  4. Elected representatives in cities and districts must be challenged to emerge as the bulwark of environmentalism even as the provincial and national governments are asked to rise to their regulatory responsibilities.
  5. When ‘organic environmentalism’ rises from the grassroots and makes state authority accountable, South Asia and its peoples will be protected.
Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.
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