Udipt Nidhi & Keshav: Altogether 2,292 cities and towns in India are located in districts which have seen at least 11 flood events over the last 18 years, according to a Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) report. This makes this situation gloomy! Close to 1.3 billion on verge of a catastrophic deluge.
Lakhimpur in Assam was hit by 31 floods from 2000-2017, approximately two flood events every year! Leh, a cold desert, is known for its surprise massive flash floods of 2010. It has actually seen nine flood events since 2000.
Similarly, the hot deserts of Rajasthan known for drought have received more than the national average of 11 events over the last 18 years. Gujarat has a mean of 15 events, including the district of Kutch known for its salt desert, the CRED report further highlights.
The CRED report states that coastal floods accounted for only 1% of the flood events, while riverine foods accounted for the maximum. River flooding in many areas actually deposits fertile sediments that aid food production.
Flash floods that bring a level of unpredictability accounted for almost a sixth of the total, as did events that were unclassified. This also brings questions of water releases from dams and upstream effects.
To be able to prepare and to respond to a disaster anywhere in the country, at short notice requires a lot of resources. Although the civil authorities have developed the competence in terms of disaster response, their reliability on armed forces is very high and the speed slow, said Pro VC, The Energy and Resources Institute School of Advanced Studies (TERI SAS), Dr Rajiv Seth. In an interview with Keshav, Dr Seth talked at length on sustainable development, climate resilience and disaster preparedness. Excerpts:
KESHAV: How prepared government authorities are when it comes to a catastrophe?
Dr SETH: It’s important that the civil authorities should develop these competencies even more because till now, the reliability of armed forces is very high. The disaster preparedness and the management of the government agencies collectively have taken care of disaster in a fairly organized manner.
We need to have better coordination between the armed forces and the civil authorities which is improving with every passing day. If the civil authorities are on their toes, it will have a far-reaching impact on the level of disaster preparedness lubricating the maneuver-mechanisms undertaken by the forces. This will enhance their traction-levels in the disaster zone, thereby saving lives.
KESHAV: How relevant is the discourse of climate resilience in India?
Dr SETH: The scope of climate resilience becomes a very vast topic when we talk about a country as diverse as India. Climate change is affecting lives in many ways. We are witnessing extreme events frequently. Be it droughts or cyclones, earthquakes or floods, extreme events in most of the cases are nothing but the manifestation of climate change.
Before talking about resilience in a broad detail, we will have to understand that the resilience is vastly different for drought as compared to our resilience for the flood. It, however, is definite that we have developed our resilience over the years. So, the government, somehow, has succeeded in building up capacities to be more resilient to these extreme climate disasters that are taking place all over the world and definitely in India.
KESHAV: Will that affect the low-end Indian middle-income households? If yes, how?
Dr SETH: The middle class in India has been growing at a very large pace. We have a very big segment of the Indian population which we can term as middle class. The lower-end of this middle class is a large population and they are destined to be affected by such disasters. But, at the same time as we see a shift from low-income group to middle-income group, naturally, the resilience to an extreme event and extreme event related disaster is going to be more and more. So, I think our resilience to the disaster has increased over the years but there’s of course much more needed to be done.
KESHAV: India has a massive population of youth! Do you see this as an opportunity or a responsibility?
Dr SETH: Youth is the most important component of the world. Everything depends upon them. New ideas, all the new innovations are led by our youth. It’s very important any new innovation should come to us by our young minds because they have far vision, provided they’re trained properly.
If we talk about the demographic dividend of India, we will have the youngest population in the world in no time. Countries like Japan will then have an aging population, the majority of residents being ailing senior citizens.
This is an opportunity of course. We can convert the skills and power of the youth for our development as we have time. We have to create an environment that should be friendly and supporting for new innovations. The youth, if uneducated and unemployed, will become a liability. Not only Governmental bodies, but our youth should also take initiative to create the jobs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too talks of “Make in India.” He wants to see Indian youth as entrepreneurs and not as jobseekers.
KESHAV: How agile the youth is when it comes to sustainable development in India?
Dr SETH: Youth is the nursery of new ideas, initiatives to augment sustainable development. At TERI School of advanced studies, we run post-graduation programs, where we focus on new ideas and innovations.
We have ideation club where students have collective discussions on sustainable development. Our 7-8 young graduates who have started their own ventures in the space of sustainable development have focused on the development of such techniques which are environment-friendly and sustainable.
Their main concentration is on the best utilization of resources. These all can be done by our young minds, and our responsibility as a faculty member at TERI School is to guide and nourish them in such manner that they should create new ideas. Like the legendary former president and nuclear scientist, APJ Abdul Kalam once said, “we should ignite the young minds and not fill them.”
KESHAV: Are sustainable development fundamentals really expensive? Do we have a cheaper alternative?
Dr SETH: It’s a regular misconception among the commoners that sustainable development would sky-rocket prices. It is a general trend in the production-chain of any commodity that even if the initial production cost is relatively higher but the product, in long run, would prove cheaper production.
Like, suppose if we take an example of our campus, it’s a green campus. In the construction of our College Campus, we had to incur 15% more cost than the normal one. But, within the span of six years, we have almost recovered the expenditure. This, of course, is beneficial, both in cash and kind.
Like we have shifted to LED Bulbs which are costly to buy, but they decimate electricity bills. Gross profit! We will have to ponder on the fact that the stocks of natural resources in vogue today are not replenishing. We have to shift our focus to sustainable methods. Consumers will have to consume in a sustainable manner while producers will have to produce in a sustainable manner. We will have to change our lifestyle. One out of seventeen sustainable development goals as prescribed by United Nation is to focus on sustainable production and consumption.
KESHAV: Any new idea needs either innovation or experienced hands for being nurture. Which idea on the present day would someday revolutionize the entire sector?
Dr SETH: If one searches for the total production of consumable products on Earth and the total consumption by mankind, one will find out that mankind is consuming the production of twelve months in just seven months. We need 1.6 times more Earth to fulfill our demand. But, this is unimaginable to have more Earth. We have to focus on new innovation and invention so that we should be able to fulfill our demand in a limited resource.
KESHAV: Any suggestions for the budding entrepreneurs? Particularly those tech savvy ones who have ideas but don’t have investments?
Dr SETH: It’s not necessary that only the people with technical background should turn to entrepreneurship. We are in the era of transition. All we need to do is to consider the “three pillars” social benefits, cost benefits, and their environmental impact.