Today in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, we are witnessing one of the worst man-made calamities in recent times. A disastrous cycle of events has led to floods that have already killed many people and displaced many more from their homes. Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families, friends and survivors and all who have lost loved-ones in this tragedy.
These floods have multiple causes such as deforestation, monsoon rains and flash-flooding but, as a recent report from the World Bank highlights climate change is likely to be a contributing factor. This report, '40 Turn Down the Heat', points out that global warming can have a catastrophic effect on monsoon patterns in South Asia which could lead to more frequent and severe floods and droughts in different regions.
People in need of rescue or assistance, can call these numbers:
- Uttarakhand: 0135-2710334/ 0135-2710335/ 0135-2710233/ 011-23710362
- Rudraprayag, Uttarkashi and Chamoli: +919808151240, +919837134399
- Pauri, Haridwar and Nainital: +91999779124, +919451901023
- Almora, Bageshwar and Pithoragarh: +919456755206, +919634535758
- Uttarakhand Disaster Management Secretary: +919837542221
- Indian Army (Medical): 18001805558/ 18004190282/ 8009833388
- Army (for pilgrims stranded at Joshimath): 0138922225
District Disaster Control Room:
- Almora - 05962237874, 9411378137
- Pithoragarh - 05964228050, 9412079945
- Haridwar- 01334223999, 9837352202
- Bageshwar - 05963220197
- Nainital - 05942231179, 9456714092
- Udhamsingh Nagar - 05944250719, 9410376808
How much the disturbed climate is responsible is likely to be debated in the coming weeks and months. But what we can say now is that these floods are a stark reminder of what it means to be living in a world in the grip of climate change, this and other similar examples such as recent floods in Europe. This will only get worse if the government continues to delay urgent action for deep cuts in Greenhouse gas emissions. The cuts can be achieved by massively increasing the use of renewable energy and ending reliance on coal, oil and gas.
There are many cases where the environment has been violated by the rich and powerful corporations and complicit politicians which have not only impacted the ecology of the region but human lives and livelihoods. They label environmentalists as 'roadblocks to development', yet real sustainable economic development can only be achieved through implementing measures that ensure our environment and social welfare have equal standing with the economy.
Clean renewable energy is available and economically viable to fuel our society, simply cutting down forests, digging out more coal and burning it in power stations increases our impact on the changing climate which in turn will cause further extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts.
Certainly , with enough forests and trees, the impact of floods could have been contained and the air would have been cleaner. How many more years will we take to learn our lessons?
Meanwhile, urgent relief and help is needed for those suffering the floods. Social Media is bursting with databases for missing people, along with helplines and rescue work. The community is coming together through different platforms to assist at the time of a disaster.
We also need to be prepared; we are living in a world in which the grip of climate change is currently getting worse and it is the most poor and vulnerable that are suffering the most and that are least responsible. This inequity in the distribution of the benefits of the economy versus it's price in lives lost needs rebalancing.
The question is- are we laying the foundation for our future or digging our graves?
Shashwat Raj Asthana is a Senior Media Officer and Paul Horsman is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace.