For a brief moment this week, Bengaluru became Venice. Roads, apartments and amenities were flooded with water and boats were dispatched to parts of the city to provide emergency services to stranded citizens. This August was the second wettest month that Bengaluru has seen in its recorded history. But with climate change, these unusual weather patterns will become more frequent, perhaps even more intense in the future.
We know the causes. The lakes need to be de-sanded – they are too shallow to hold the volumes of water they were accustomed to. Waterways and underground pipes that have been laid through the city are too narrow, unable to drain water from flooded areas. Wetlands, which act like sponges, soaking up excess rainwater and holding it in place for the parched soil to suck it up, no longer exist in Bangalore. Even when we restore lakes, we clean up wetlands, turning them into tree-lined parks and playgrounds, unaware of their ecological function and importance in our daily lives.
Piles of trash, including plastic and other trash, have accumulated in our waterways, blocking the flow of water and causing it to overflow into the streets. Just yesterday as I drove past a number of lakes and kaluves being cleared I saw piles of weeds, mud and other debris on the sidewalks and road, removed temporarily to help the water flow again. A good rain, and all this will be brought back to the same place from which they were removed at great expense and with much labor. Poor planning, mismanagement and corruption have undoubtedly contributed to the predicament we find ourselves in today.
But it’s not just local rains and floods that we have to worry about. Flooding in Pakistan is exacerbated by melting glaciers above. For a few years, scientists warn, Pakistan’s rivers will be overloaded; after the melting of the glaciers, the rivers dry up. A disaster beyond imagination. Six of the world’s major rivers dried up this summer, in regions as far apart as Europe, China and the United States. Earlier this week, a group of scientists from Europe and the United States discovered that the Greenland Ice Sheet was on an irreversible course to melt, causing sea levels to rise by at least 10 inches. The article, published in Nature Climate Change, calls it a grim prognosis – simply put, it’s the scary future we face.
The writing on the wall is clear. As we seek to reduce climate emissions, stop the use of fossil fuels, and limit the damage that global warming will cause, we must also adapt to the reality of living in a climate-changing world. A Reserve Bank of India working paper on climate risk and sustainable finance, released in July, warns that climate change and associated environmental risks will be the most critical threats over the next 10 years – to people , the planet and the financial system. The report also makes clear that our experience of the past will not prepare us for the future, which is unlikely to look, feel or act in the way that our current intuition or patterns of change can prepare us for. We must prepare for the challenges of living in a world disrupted by constant risks, in a creative, agile and forward-looking way.
What does this mean for Bangalore? We need to move beyond band-aids and patchwork solutions. We have to de-sand our lakes and widen the concrete drains to deal with intense episodes of heavy rains over short periods. But our solid waste management plan is also tied to water management – the less plastic clogs waterways, the smoother the water flow will be. The same goes for our transport plan for the city. Unless we invest more in public transport, we will have to constantly expand our roads, cut down trees and disrupt the natural flow of water. Unless we think systemically, we are doomed to repeat this cycle with every monsoon.
(University professor Azim Premji is proud to bark all trees, good and bad.)