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When Bengaluru became Venice

The Green Goblin
Last Updated : 03 September 2022, 22:53 IST

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For a brief while this week, Bengaluru became Venice. Roads, apartments and layouts were flooded with water, and boats were sent into parts of the city to supply emergency services to stranded citizens. This August was the second wettest month that Bengaluru has seen in its recorded history. But under climate change, such unusual weather conditions will become more frequent, perhaps even more intense in the future.

We know the causes. The lakes need to be desilted – they are too shallow to hold the volumes of water that they once used to. The waterways and underground pipes that have been laid across the city are too narrow, unable to drain the water from flooded areas. Wetlands, which act like sponges, soaking up the excess rainwater and holding it in place for the thirsty soil to suck it in, no longer exist in Bengaluru. Even when we restore lakes, we clear out the wetlands, converting them into tree parks and playgrounds, oblivious to their ecological function and its importance in our daily lives.

Piles of garbage, including plastic and other waste, have accumulated in our waterways, blocking the flow of water, and making it spill over onto the streets. Just yesterday, as I passed a number of lakes and kaluves being cleaned, I saw piles of weeds, mud and other debris on the pavements and road, pulled out temporarily to help the water flow again. One good rain, and all of this will be washed back into the same place from which they were taken out at great expense and labour. Shoddy planning, mismanagement and corruption have no doubt contributed to the difficult spot in which we find ourselves today.

But it’s not just the rains and just the local flooding that we need to worry about. The floods in Pakistan are exacerbated by the melting of the glaciers above. For some years, scientists warn, the rivers in Pakistan will be over-full; after the glaciers melt, the rivers will run dry. A disaster beyond imagination. Six of the world’s major rivers have run dry this summer, in areas as far flung as Europe, China and the US. Earlier this week, a group of scientists from Europe and the US found the Greenland ice sheet to be on an irreversible path towards melting, making sea levels rise by at least 10 inches. The paper, published in Nature Climate Change, calls this an ominous prognosis – in layman’s terms, this is the scary-as-hell future we have to deal with.

The writing on the wall is clear. While we seek to reduce climate emissions, stop fossil fuel use, and limit the damage that global warming will bring, we also have to gear up to the reality of living in a world with climate change. A discussion paper by the Reserve Bank of India on Climate Risk and Sustainable Finance, published in July, warns us that climate change and associated environmental risks will be the most critical threats over the next 10 years -- for people, the planet, and the financial system. The report also clearly states that our experience of the past will not prepare us for the future, which is unlikely to look, feel or act in a manner that our intuition, or current models of change, can prepare us for. We need to gear up to the challenges of living in a world disrupted by constant risk, in a manner that is creative, nimble, and forward-looking.

What does this mean for Bengaluru? We must go beyond band aids and patchwork solutions. We must desilt our lakes and widen the concrete box-drains to cope with intense bursts of heavy rainfall in short spells. But our solid waste management plan is also linked to water management – the less the plastic clogging the waterways, the smoother will be the flow of water. And so must our transport plan for the city. Unless we invest more in public transport, we will have to endlessly expand our roads, cutting down trees and disrupting the natural flow of water. Unless we think systemically, we are doomed to repeat this cycle every monsoon.

(The Azim Premji University Prof prides herself on barking up all trees, right and wrong.)

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Published 03 September 2022, 18:41 IST

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