KASHMIR FLOODS: Live Small to Be Big

Floods were invited, and future floods can be more devastating. If we know what caused and precipitated floods, why can’t we take care now? But the question is whether we have the vision and the will to make the difference and avoid future disasters. Experts agree that the floods were caused by the following factors:

  • Unplanned urbanization
  • Encroaching agricultural and low lying/marshy lands
  • Blocking normal routes and not maintaining flood channels
  • Squeezing the space of water bodies

It has been observed that during the floods, waters have roughly retaken their original space or reclaimed rights lost to land. Now it needs no rocket science to see the solution in following measures that will restore the original state. We see technological solutions being proposed. We submit this theory, that project, to undo the damage we have already done. We dredge, build new flood channels, and other such solutions are currently being debated. What is not being discussed is the moral problem which is the culprit. We have increased our population, thanks to technological measures, and then propose other technological solutions to house it, and provide for its sustenance. We have made it an unwritten law that houses constitute a fundamental need. Do they? Thoreau famously argued that they don’t. In any case, we don’t have enough land to house all in the manner of small nuclear families seeking to build big houses on as much land as possible. We construct big walls between houses. We have multiplied our needs and our carbon footprint. All of us contribute every day to environmental pollution in numerous ways. We have encouraged tourism as a policy matter. We have been financing housing loans and car loans so liberally. We have been following the policy of more and more development and have been fooled by the slogan that sustainable development is possible. It is not, according to the best thinkers on development both from the Left and the Right. We have been depriving villagers of means to survive in villages, and forced urbanization. We have thought it expedient to declare certain zones commercial zones so that land prices soar, and we increase our money supply through means capitalists call for.

The question is can we ban all new constructions especially in marshy areas? Can’t we shift to vertical instead of horizontal expansion by adopting flat system as a policy? Can’t we tax walls between houses which look so ugly, so inhuman? Doesn’t our city look less suffocating after walls have been washed away? We can do without so many shops and commercial establishments by adopting a policy that concentrates them in small areas only. We must question the development discourse that is official policy today. We must not harp on tourism and other sectors that are ultimately too costly for the environment and long term survival. We must learn from our ancestors who lived better lives though their standard of living was not comparable to ours. We must question war against poverty and the craze for “improving” the “standards” of living. We must learn to use public transport more and more. We must ban transfers to distant places that increases the carbon footprint. We must decide what we want – development as understood today or living life according to Tradition.

Let me hazard a prediction: we will succumb to various pressures not to implement radical measures needed. We, as a community, are not ready to change lifestyles. We are not ready to listen to Gandhi who opposed urbanization, the development discourse and everything that costs us long term survival. We can’t say no to illegitimate colonies and thousands of encroachments.   We will not consider to restore the Dal, the Wular and many other water bodies to their original dimensions. We will soon build more lavish and bigger houses than we lost. We will spend more and more on paneling and all kinds of accessories. We will use cement and imported roofing material. We will not question the mushroom growth of all kinds of small industrial centres that ultimately lead to floods even if they absorb a few youth in the job market. We will soon debate only the extent of relief or compensation, and not the legitimacy of markets, houses, roads etc., that have led to the current tragedy.

We need the will to dream big, to think about future generations, and be ready for a profound transformation of the current value system. But I don’t think we will do anything except a few cosmetic measures. And there is no guarantee against future man-made flood disasters. The current flood fury was more than 90 per cent man made, or invited. And we are inviting more by our complacency. Our political and bureaucratic elite is itself a party, which has a stake in opposing long term solutions, like evacuating posh areas that have come up against environmental or flood control logic or making war against wrong policies that have led to disaster.

We are debating Disaster Management Systems rather than Disaster Prevention Systems. Floods, if not earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, can be largely prevented – or at least the damage minimized.

One Response to "KASHMIR FLOODS: Live Small to Be Big"

  1. J Thomas   October 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    This is an emotional article. Only one sentence is relevant :
    “Blocking normal routes and not maintaining flood channels”

    Floods occurred in the Kashmir Valley because, over the years, the Jhelum river has got silted up. Embankments (bunds) have been constructed on either side of the Jhelum “to keep out floods.” When further silting occurred, the bunds were raised further. We now have the weird spectacle where the river bed is higher than street level. It is a poor solution because, when the bunds get breached, or the river overflows the bunds, the entire river empties into the city. That’s exactly what happened on 07 September 2014.

    There are newspaper reports that the state government wants to divert the Jhelum river around Srinagar. It is feasible but at prohibitive cost. Firstly, a lot of land is required. Secondly, a large number of bridges will have to be built across the new river channel. Thirdly, when the new river channel gets silted up, embankments will be built on either side. Eventually, the river will again flow above street level. We will be back to square one.

    It is far better to dredge and de-silt the existing river. No additional land is required and new bridges will not have to be built. When the Jhelum river bed level is brought below street level, floods will not occur.