Rain Havoc: Activists blame Maharashtra government for ignoring climate change report

2014 TERI report spoke of higher temperatures, heavier rain

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As early as 2014, the Maharashtra government had received a warning that Pune would be prone to floods. In the manner of most things, the warning was ignored. The result? Severe rainfall of 106 mm battering the city left 22 people dead and four missing. 16,000 people had to be evacuated to safety from not just Pune City, but areas like Baramati, Bhor, Purandhar, Saswad and Khed-Shivapur.

All this could have been easily avoided, said SarangYadwadkar, only if the State government had paid heed to the report given to it by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a research institute that specializes in the fields of energy, environment and sustainable development.

Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Strategies for Maharashtra: Maharashtra State Adaptation Action Plan on Climate– The 2014 report studied the impact of climate change across Maharashtra was commissioned by the government. The report extensively studies the impact of climate change on water resources, agriculture, forests and biodiversity, health impacts and the impact on the livelihoods in Maharashtra.

Warnings, Concerns and Recommendations
Highlighting the concerns over the topography and socio-economic condition of the state, the report said, “The State of Maharashtra with a long coastline, varied geography, large poor population, and an economy closely tied to climate sensitive sectors like agriculture is likely to be highly vulnerable to impacts of changes in temperature, precipitation patterns, frequency and intensity of extreme events such as droughts, floods, cyclones, heat waves etc. In this context, assessing current and future vulnerabilities, climate change impacts, and adaptation needs is of vital importance to the State’s policy making and planning process.”

The report clearly indicated an increased occurrence of cloudbursts along with the higher annual average rainfall. It mentioned that the rainfall would increase by almost 37.5%. In an integrated flood management plan, it had proposed precautionary measures of creating a storm water drainage network, harvesting rain water, constructing permeable roads to reduce water logging and increasing tree cover to maintain soil quality an prevent soil erosion.

The report stated that tropical forest cover had decreased over the period of 1998 – 2012. It had warned if the ‘business-as-usual’ trends continue, the region will become less resilient to the impacts of climate change.

It had mentioned that the annual mean temperature in Pune, currently at 25.22 ºCelsius, would rise by 1.15 – 1.28 ºCelsius by 2030.

The report also stated that the Pune’s average rainfall of 852.2 mm, will see an increase of between 10 mm to 32.5 mm by 2030. In order to prevent flood-like situation and preserve the biodiversity, the report states, “Enhance tree cover in cities with high growth in peri-urban areas like Pune.”

About a quarter of India’s drought-prone districts are in Maharashtra, with 73% of its geographic area classified as semiarid. The drought-affected districts of Maharashtra are mainly Ahmednagar, Solapur, Nashik, Pune, Sangli, Satara, Aurangabad, Beed, Osmanabad, Dhule, Jalgaon, and Buldhana which account for 60% of the net sown area and lie in the rain shadow region east of the Sahayadri mountain ranges in Maharashtra and the adjacent Marathwada region. Maharashtra experienced severe and successive years of drought in 1970-74 and 2000-2004.

Since intensity of rainfall plays a crucial role in the occurrence of floods – particularly flash floods, monthly extreme rainfall for few regions in Maharashtra have been analysed and it reveals significant increase in the extreme rainfall. Mumbai also witnessed massive floods in July, 2005 where over 900 people perished and over Rs 450 croresworth of damage of property was reported. The State has also experienced many cyclones in the past and more recently in November 2009 the cyclone Phyan inflicted damages related to strong winds, the unseasonal heavy rainfall and tidal surge.

The report explains that damage to dam embankments, release of excessive water from dams, improper storm-water drainage systems and unplanned urbanization are the main factors leading to floods in Maharashtra. It warned that the State cannot ignore the impacts of climate change in the short run in which low-lying regions along the coast, including small islands will face the highest exposure to rising sea levels thus increasing the risk of floods and bringing more cultivable area under the risk of submergence and degradation.

It reads – Flooding is highly affected by tides, whenever the high intensity rainfall coincides with high tide Mumbai get flooded because the drainage get chocked and open water outlets get clogged with high level of sea water.

How the Government ignored warnings
It is true that ‘climate change’ has become the buzzword and ‘floods’ have become the new normal. But the government cannot blame climate change for the dire consequences that are the people of the State are facing year on year. It is imperative to understand that the floods battering the state and leading to a loss of lives are a consequence of our actions.

PradeepPurandare, a hydrological expert said, “There are dozens of reports that are lying with the state government which talk about flood management, but none of them are implemented.”

The State also scrapped its river regulatory zone policy in 2015, others pointed out. The policy had limited industries along the rivers and made certain areas between 500 metres and 3 km from the riverbanks as ‘no-development zones’.

The rise of Pune as the IT hub may have given the economy a boost, but the increased and rampant encroachment along its river banks has increased its susceptibility to grave environmental damage.

Development boundaries could have easily been drawn along the AmbilOdhaRiver, but the construction near the edges have narrowed its water carrying capacity. Sewage and drainage lines passing through the stream have blocked it further. Encumbered by excavation projects and cutting of trees, which increased the force with which the water flows.

In most of our cities, river channels have become constricted with blatant encroachment; there is rampant dumping of debris and garbage by the construction industry and others; the natural drainage streams of our cities have been blocked or diverted; and, in the case of rural areas, questions are being raised about dam management.

Mumbai Marooned: A Concerned
Mumbai has had a similar history. Irresponsible permissions granted to the powerful building lobby, especially on the cosmopolis’ crucial seepage zones resulted in an unspeakable tragedy in July, 2005. The report, Mumbai Marooned: Concerned Citizens Commission, an Inquiry into the Mumbai Floods, 2005, investigated and concluded how this unplanned ‘development’ had risked the sustainable development of the city.

What can India learn from the World?
Climate change continues to threaten countries on every continent. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report suggesting that the 1.5 ºCelsius degree rise in global average temperatures could have a huge impact in developing countries in the form of heatwaves, floods, droughts and water scarcity.

Belgium has committed to the EU’s target to cut 1990 carbon emission levels by 20 percent by 2020 and has started by shutting down the last of its coal-powered plants.

Malta, a tiny island in the middle of the Mediterranean is susceptible to the rising tides of global warming. While until recently relying on imported oil for its energy, it has now shifted towards solar power and gas-fired plants and is now one of the leaders in the fight against climate change.

Sweden gets points for relatively low carbon emissions and a highly efficient recycling system.

Norway is the first country in the world to ban deforestation. Indonesia was one of the few tropical nations to reduce its deforestation rates in 2017 as part of REDD+ which stands for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Ghana – with one of the highest deforestation rates in Africa – has become the third country to sign a landmark agreement with the World Bank that rewards community efforts to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

In Conclusion
It is true that the State is now making efforts to study and combat the effects of the past few extreme disasters that have battered it. Chief Minister of Maharashtra, DevendraFadnavis had said that the State was setting up an expert committee to look at how to prevent floods, taking into account the reality of climate change.

Why the government ignored the blatant signs and warnings already presented to it about the precarious situation is a mystery. But if today the government is serious about taking stock of the situation, it has to pull up its socks and actually implement what has been suggested to it. It should look at:

  1. Sustainable Forestry by replanting trees after logging, limiting soil erosion and maintaining water quality.
  2. Erosion control by clearing new terrain to replace depleted fields.
  3. Stewardship to monitor logging activities to make sure that all land use laws are being followed, including ensuring the rights of landowners and indigenous peoples.
  4. Involve itself with REDD+ – a program that seeks to give countries economic benefits for storing carbon in their forests. This prevents releasing excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from forest clearing.

Related Articles:

  1. Erratic Monsoon, Driven By Climate Change, Damaged 25% Crops In Karnataka’s Kaveri Basin
  2. Climate change is really about prosperity, peace, public health and posterity – not saving the environment
  3.  More Floods, Storms, Erratic Rains: India’s Future, As Planet Warms




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