Saturday, June 22, 2024

Stuck with old recipe

Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio is said to have directed all Government Departments in the State to be prepared for the approaching monsoon season. According to a DIPR bulletin on May 20, Rio conducted a State-level level monsoon preparedness meeting at Kohima and reminded Government officials about the unpredictable character of Nagaland’s monsoon: whether excess or deficient rainfall, the effect will be disastrous in both cases. The full onslaught of monsoon is yet to arrive but past precedents have, quite understandably, the State administration worried. On May 10, an official of the Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority (NSDMA) went on record saying that two “major pre-monsoon events” this year had already cost the State’s economy an estimated Rs 230 crore. Said two major incidents had happened in Peren on March 23 and in Shamator during the intervening hours of April 19 and 20. The latter incident was not limited to Shamator alone and flash floods in Noklak District claimed a life. In fact, the NSDMA provided an update listing the trail of destruction caused by the latter event across at least eight districts of the State. Swathes of farmlands were laid to waste, so many bridges (already in ramshackle conditions) obliterated, and roads eroded rendering impossible the residents’, mostly villagers, travel. Instances like these expose the State Government’s continued failure to make the roads safe even after receiving crores rupees ~ forcing the people to commute and live in such circumstances of heightened risks. While the deaths and destruction caused by pre- and monsoon rains are bad news and could have been reduced with a better safety mechanism, worse is the fact that such incidents are only likely to increase in frequency in the coming days. As such, the world on Monday registered the hottest day on record as the average global temperature reached 17.01C, as several countries reported heat waves. And with the incidents of heat waves getting more common, so will events of excessive rainfall, floods and landslides. As it is, climate change has rendered the character of the monsoon even more unpredictable now. We are also all too aware of the consequences of deficient rainfall in the State. The State’s first ever disaster report released by the Directorate of Economics & Statistics highlights this year revealed that Nagaland recorded 21 droughts in 2018-19. This more than doubled to 43 in 2019-20 and then jumped to 63 in 2020-21. Powerful natural forces and ill-equipped administration make up for a recipe of disaster. But as powerful and unpredictable Mother Nature is, the intensity of destruction is our undoing. In the name of development, we have blocked natural water pathways, constricting them or in most cases blocking them altogether to create space for building construction without giving any attention to the possible consequences. Although landscape contouring is both a science and an art, anyone with money and an excavator can plunder delicate hill slopes with disastrous results that are clearly visible during the monsoon rains. Here, it is also important to point out ~ for whatever reasons ~ the absence of strict building norms, at least in municipal or urban areas. Laws are absent because political will, in the first place, is absent. Currently, the Government’s approach to disaster incidents, monsoon-related or otherwise, is reactive rather than preventive. Clearly, our State’s underlying vulnerabilities call for a deeper examination of the structural and systemic challenges that amplify these risks. And to opt for a reactive approach is to be two steps behind. The recurring need for safety measures during monsoon underscores a larger issue: the lack of long-term, sustainable solutions to mitigate the inherent risks. This then brings to light the urgent need for comprehensive disaster management strategies that go beyond immediate relief. Addressing the root causes of vulnerability should be prioritised. As climate change intensifies and extreme weather events like the unpredictable monsoon become more frequent, Nagaland Government must invest in durable solutions to protect its people, their livelihoods and property. It is, after all, the Government’s duty.