Washed out for a New start- Kerala floods

I had come home to Kerala looking forward to celebrate a quite Onam with my family. We enjoyed the monsoons which started off in a sing-song manner. Unfortunately within few days the rains quickly gave way to monstrous floods the state has ever faced for over a century since the great flood of 1924.

The rude shock of floods quickly turned into rescue operations which saw many firsts like being the largest disaster relief exercise by the Air force which also included mobile hospitals for the first time. The Army ,media, online groups, web platforms worked tirelessly to help those trapped in their homes. Several schools, halls and institutions became rescue camps and the more fortunate ones worked day and night as volunteers in these camps.

Following the rescue operations comes the next task of getting back to normal life. 60,000 volunteers descended in Kuttanad for first-of-its-kind clean up with ministers joining in followed by  cleaning and repair operations throughout the state. Now the question is what happens after the political blame games, anticipations, pilot study reports, and several new revelations ranging from dangers of dams to major risks of climate change.

The new notion in air is to rebuild Kerala which should be reframed as “rebuild Kerala in better way”. Here is our stellar opportunity for a second chance in developing sensibly.  The basic questions to be thought of are what is wrong with the current system of planning in Kerala and how to be resilient to risks in the future, thanks to climate change.

The focus should be on five major areas of development. The first and foremost is taking necessary steps to curtain water borne diseases like Dengue, Malaria etc that spread easily. Vaccinations, preventive medicines, provision for drinking water and awareness among people can go a long way.

Creating databases recording the loss of life and property and then creating livelihood opportunities for those who have lost everything in floods should be the next area of focus. Even unique and culturally significant small scale production units like those in the Weaver’s  village of Chendamangalam and hand-made mirror industry of Aranmula have suffered severly. Creating a scientific unified system for rebuilding Kerala through which livelihood opportunities can be provided through beneficiary led constructions, employment in data collections, surveys and roles in rebuilding the lost infrastructure of their own villages by providing them with steady wages and helping them with incentives could be focus of the state. Such reconstructions should be easier and needs to be under a common umbrella along with the concerned departments and not to be lost in tangles of government proceedings.

When it comes to reconstruction we need to look into the future in terms of the choice of materials for construction and also new concepts of construction adopted worldwide which is to be integrated into the vernacular settings. An example would be “amphibious” houses that float to escape flooding. It rests on the ground under normal conditions and rises up in its dock and floats, buoyed by the flood water. These are found to be slightly expensive , however when other solutions like floating houses on drums , houses on stilts etc when integrated with the concept can bring solutions that are affordable to the common people living close to the rivers and backwaters of Kerala. Multi -sustainable construction materials like ferrocement can also be used which is a lightweight combination of wire mesh and cement mortar.

The fourth area of focus should be strategic sustainable planning for the future. Kuttanad and Aleppey the most affected areas of flood, are often called as the “Holland of the East” mainly  because of its geographic conditions in which the region lies below sea level and it’s highly fertile agricultural lands. Holland suffered heavy flooding in the years 1170 and 1953 but now the Dutch now takes pride in the internationally acclaimed and intricate scientific system of flood relief evolved as part of their lifestyle. The wind mills of Netherlands pumps out excess water from the floods and clear space for agriculture and settlement. The highly fertile lands created from flooding are a boon which makes the country the second largest exporter of agricultural goods. Rijkswaterstaat is higher body responsible for the design, construction, management and maintenance of the main infrastructure facilities in the Netherlands which includes roadways, waterways and water systems. However it is shocking to find that in Kerala dams found in one particular river is handled by multiple departments which makes it difficult to manage at times of crisis. In 1995 when the rivers Rhine, Meuse and Waal flooded beyond proportions, a new concept called as “room for river “  came about which would be the best option to choose from the Dutch flood control systems in the current scenario. Instead of fighting the floods co-existing with it by creating emergency spaces like ponds, fallow lands, parks and other open recreational spaces for the water to flow into. The excess water is diverted to other areas. A fool proof emergency plan to handle situations like floods and cyclones needs to be prepared as climate change can bring in more similar surprises into our lives.

The highlands like Idukki and Wayanad hold unprecedented growth and thereby equal amount of destruction. Micro Vulnerability Risk analysis and Hazard mapping needs to be conducted to identify areas that needs to be reserved as No Development zones considering slope, erosion, landslide risks, vegetative cover,  settlement density, ecology pattern, soil type etc.

Creating Green Kerala is the fifth area which should be the overall theme for any developmental works undertaken by the Government and private parties. Being a sustainable organic state can be a better way to attract tourists and to be in the market for Responsible tourism than relying merely on the kindness bestowed by nature.

The rivers have vomited back the plastic wastes thrown in carelessly as a second chance to reuse and recycle for uses in construction, road making and other infrastructure development. C3 C4 category plants, plants of Nycataginacea’ Graminae, Pocacia family , mangroves etc can rectify heavy metal contamination and erosion sustainably.

The recent amendment to the The Kerala Conservation of Paddy and Wetland act – 2008 dilutes the original intention of conserving wetlands through ambiguous definition of public use which may lead to misuse of paddy lands by real estate mafia and land grabbers. The new amendment in which government usurps the local and district committee powers with regard to wetland and paddy fields without an Environmental Impact Assesment (EIA) needs to be looked into. The wetland and paddy land data banks needs to be updated along with clear understanding of assigned land uses. Master plans need to be developed with disaster emergency plans. CRZ violation is also another loosely held issue in Kerala which needs to be dealt with strictly creating an understanding that the future sufferers are the ones who break the law.

What drives the challenge should be a vision for climate resilient future with all of the state’s resources restored and the needs of the people to be addressed with zero taxing on the nature. The world now awaits stories of a courageous come back for Kerala.

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1. Being boring #crappypoem

You keep asking me what’s new
I struggle to keep you interested
Because that’s what I love
To keep you hanging to my words

I have a boring routine now
Nothing new to say
I have settled down
Waiting to be stirred up again

My moods and the air around me
And the moments I took long breaths
Are not worth repeating
I felt like an ache in the pit of my stomach
But now even that is gone

I wish I could laugh like the sunrise
And not be ridiculed
Stare at the butterflies
Stretch my muscles
And ignore what lies ahead.

I chose midnight for writing
The night air and musings
When everything is done for the day
And all are asleep

I write in length with cheery smiles
Optimistic to great depths
Then I wait some more just in case
Sometimes you may turn up
Having read my burning thoughts
To say good night.

Sustainability for the commons

Every day is a new chance to bring changes. We think of doing something big always but towards the end of the day you get overwhelmed by how vast the challenge is and give up. Most of the time we get lost on where to begin and end up bored of the whole idea and stay lazy in our couch, watching our favorite shows munching on anything unhealthy. Honestly there are days when i think that no one can be as lazy as me. But having one lazy day every week is apparently good to keep your stress levels low. Phew! that’s a good thing then. I was googling further in this and then dawned upon me this amazing article ” The UN’s Lazy Persons guide to saving the day”. It is a very small part of the vast SDGs (Sustainable Development goals which contains 17 major goals )by the United Nations. I think everyone needs to have a look at it The lazy persons guide to saving the world

It contains four major sections

  • Things you can do sitting on your couch
  • Things you can do when you are moving about in your home
  • Things you can do when you are out
  • Things to do when you are at work

I guess that sums up our entire day.

Things to do when you are on your couch:

I keep my TV running in the background because when i am alone i don’t like the silence. The same happens in the case of my laptop, computer etc. I think that is a strict No-No from today. Paying bills online means no need to get up from your couch and no wastage of paper. Online window shopping is my favorite idle activity and I am sure is the case for many shopaholics out there. Breathe each time you decide to buy something fancy. Think twice and leave it your cart for few days. You will understand whether you actually need it or not within few days. This process helps to reduce the clutter and keeps your home manageable. Now opting for sustainable alternatives is another whole new thing. This include Organic beauty products, organic cloths, wood and steel utensils instead of plastic ones etc. Next point i really found interesting is calculating my own carbon footprint. This one requires a bit of math and more effort like getting up from your comfortable position to check the bills and papers. But I am sure it is good to keep a toll on your energy consumption and that will be the first thing I will be doing once I set aside this laptop. Calculate carbon footprint

Things to do at your home:

Thanks to the electricity bill, average people like me in India let their cloths dry naturally in the sun and most of us consider washing machine sacred and only to be run when the load is full. Except when I have a presentation to give or when I decide to sing and dance in the shower I do take short showers. Another point in the list is to consume more veggies and less of non-veg. This is a hard one for me. Except for the days of lent there are only very few days that I don’t think about chicken legs dancing around. While we are at it, let me say last 3 months have been a hard time for me. We shifted to a new place and still haven’t purchase a refrigerator. That means we need to buy the raw materials everyday ,cook and eat it the very same day or else everything goes bad. Its quite sustainable since we turned vegan for this matter and we save on the energy consumption. But I have no clue how this will go on in the future with me being a vicious carnivorous. Carry your own cloth bag when you are trying to buy vegetables and never throw away the old plastic bags , you can keep reusing it.

Composting our food waste is something we do back home in Kerala, and this helps as a manure for the vegetable to grow in our backyard. But that do not work in Delhi because we live on 7th floor. But an organic vegetable garden on our balcony would definitely help the cause.

Since it is summers in Delhi it is impossible to survive without air-conditioners. In Japan it is mandatory for the air temperature to be, I think somewhere around 24 degree C to reduce the energy consumption. We do the same at home and it is also advisable to switch off your AC once it gets cold enough. It is also very important to assure air circulation in the room during the day when the AC is switched off because lack of oxygen leads to more toxicity in your body.

Things to do when you are out:

Uber pool, metro or bus is my usual mode of movement when we travel around for shopping. When you are out shopping try to stick on to your list made the previous night because I usually and almost every time loose track in a supermarket and probably end up buying more than what I came for. Carrying a water bottle from home helps you all the time as the water outside cannot be trusted to be safe and you can reduce the usage of the plastic bottles.

Try second hands, even though its not very popular here I think it would go a long way. Facebook pages to sell your stuff within your locality is a good way to sell when you are shifting to a new city or place. Second hand and even third hand dog-eared books are always welcome to my home. Now if you do not want to sell, there is always an option to give away your old cloths and goods to orphanages and the needy.

It is really hard to find sustainable food here. I mean there is no real way to find out unless you test it in labs. Adulterated curry powders, flours, rice, vegetables dripping in pesticides, even the tea that we drink everyday is a cocktail of chemicals!. Food items labeled organic may not be so. I wish there was a unified system to help with this issue and the government would feel more responsible for the health of the citizens. Till then keep you red alert button on when you shop and create awareness among your friends.

Things to do in Office:

Carpool, bike , take metro or take bus to your work . Once you step into your office there is hardly any time for anything else. But you still can keep your eyes open for a few things like understanding the energy efficiency status of your organisation. Organizing low impact week is a wonderful idea that instills more environmental awakening among all the workers. An office trip to a natural setting once in a while will not hurt the company’s productivity but in turn would reduce the stress levels and increase productivity.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” – The Silent spring, Rachel Carson.

Encourage the organisation to take CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) seriously and help to grow urban forests and increase the green in cities or even to work with slums and encourage community development. Do not use paper cups for the coffee breaks instead use your own. Here is a brand new idea by a couple from hyderabad who developed edible spoons which I think is an amazing alternative.

Edible spoons and cutlery

There are so many ideas mentioned in the article. I think everyone should check it out and think about your own sustainable practices at home.

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change

And the last generation that can actually do anything about it”- Barrack Obama

You are either part of the solution or you are going to be part of the problem. I think its time to choose your side wisely.

The Pollution that swallows Delhi

I am back in Delhi and the rain clouds have blessed us with mild showers which actually made me see the city in a better colour once the dust got washed out. But alas! the dust is building up again.

timelapse photo of train
Photo by Rohit Gangwar on Pexels.com

I have been googling like i always do, mostly to find the best reads, best in Netflix and  5 minute crafts, only this time in a different route to find more about the air pollution.  What i found out was very painful and shocking.

In a recent survey conducted by WHO, it is sad to find out that Delhi is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Last November Delhi hit a critical smog level in the city in which the PM2.5 and PM10 hit very high levels of 999 mg/cum when the optimum levels had to be between 60-100 mg/cum. Air pollution kills 1.5 million people every year in India. Do you know what happens to your body when its hard to breath ?

It reduces your lung capacity, leads to fatigue, sore throats, fever and lung cancer. The children suffer much more than the adults. Large number of children have irreversible lung damage due to poor quality of air. It lowers the IQ, increases the risk of autism, epilepsy and much more.

So how is possible for the pollution to reach epic proportions? The reasons are all over the internet which is flooding with studies and news reports. Everyone know the facts. Delhi houses the most competent NGOs and Environmental planning organisations (honestly i hope to work in one of them very soon) and the who’s who of the nations government lives in the capital city. Why are we so quiet then?

I was hopping at least in the lines of few usual measures like more trees and more green which is always the mantra of environmentalists and was shocked again to find out around 13 thousand trees were being cut in South Delhi for Union government’s redevelopment projects which i think is barbaric. Nothing would help contain the sand storms now if the trees do not remain in place.

IMG_20180609_174117_753.jpgAbove is a shot from my home when the storm was building up two weeks back.

I cant help thinking about what i read few days back about Chanakya. Chanakya was an Indian teacher, philosopher, and royal advisor from the ancient times. He is identified as Kauṭilya or Vishnugupta, who authored the ancient Indian political treatise, the Arthashastra.  According his text the death of a city begins when the water channels of the city begins to be polluted. The life around the city eventually dies with it. I guess i don’t have to say much about the state of river Yamuna flowing through the heart of Delhi.

Big cities of the world are always bound to be polluted . How do we handle it ? What little can you do sitting within the four walls of your office or your home or anywhere else for that matter? What can a common person do about this?

Think about this. I hope to come back with some answers !

 

 

Climate change

I have been shuttling back and forth between the Delhi and Kerala for the past two months. Both being on the North and South of india respectively have there own well defined climate conditions. The result ! I can get toasted in Delhi in the morning and get drenched head to toe in the downpour at Kerala in the evening after the 4 hour long flight.

But the point is 3 years back this would not have been the condition. This time in Kerala after an unusually long summer, the monsoon is killing it by raining for weeks without one bit of sunshine. Sounds romantic and cozy but what about the mosquitos and the endless new epidemics to follow.

Let’s shift the focus to New Delhi, the capital city of India . I’m wondering when the summer ends here because I’m dying for a bit of rain and there is no sign of it. A few years back this time, a few stray grey clouds of the monsoons would have moved to the northern part of India giving a rest to the intense heat lingering on 40 + degree Celsius on all days . Today Delhi already choked by the intense air pollution faces the toll taken by climate change. Thunder and dust storms ! A continous dust storm for 1 hour can do terrible menace. Getting caught in one while getting home from a tired day at work shall not be something you would prefer . Some days I even think the Delhi is a dying city probably interstellar fashion all covered up in dust. Who cares about opportunities when you can’t breath.

The trouble now is that the climate has changed. This is happening in short spans of time. You do not need statistics or reports from serious scientists for proof when the changes are right before your eyes . We know green house gases , global warming , carbon foot print etc. But what about it. We think it’s something after 50 years but the reality is, now is the chance to change the course of climate change. As Leo DiCaprio says climate change is now ! It is happening now. Let’s sit and think about our lifestyle and what changes can you bring for atleast 5 minutes a day unless of course you are sick of your life and need the world to end soon.

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