Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Agenda for Green Cities: Article on Earth Day - 22nd April 2014!

Are you comfortable with the heat? If not, wake up; set the agenda for your future…

Ranjan K Panda[1]

Heat is peaking up in our state yet again.  And this time, it coincides with the election heat.  Election, as I say, is a new season altogether and a flooding time for false promises.  The leaders, most of whom reside in their comfort zones of air conditioning homes and cars, will now encounter the real heat the common people of the state are forced to live with; mostly because of a visionless leadership which does not recognize that its wrong development plans are driving Odisha fast into a heat chamber and desertification. 

Memories of the leaders and planners are the shortest and they forget the heat as soon as they go back to their comfort chambers.  However, we citizens have a responsibility to remind them the reality.  We have to keep reminding them that crossing 40 degree C in March itself is now an established weather condition for the state and that last year only we had to lose many people to sun stroke.  Odisha is a now a globally known as a climate change hot spot.  Temperature hovers above 45 degree C for most of summer and we also have the record of crossing 50 degree C several times in recent past.  Our leaders, who beg votes each five years, need to recognize this as a real issue and not engage in lip service activities. 

They also need to understand that we have invited this disaster by our deeds.  While we cut down our trees, we cement up our roads and concretize our cities, we forget that we are at a defining moment in world’s history of existence when we need to respect the Mother Earth the most.  But we do the opposite.  We have to stay in all possible comfort that we can buy and that are necessarily anti-nature.  We are the modern society.  We don’t need trees but air conditioners.  And while we fight for our right to drinking water, we don’t bother to see where from the water comes to those taps.  What we should be concerned most is that an increased condition of heat, the most impacted would be our water resources. 

In a recent warning five hundred scientists have said that the majority of the world’s population are going to face irreversible water crisis just within a space of two generations.  This is due to climate change, pollution and over-use of freshwater resources, and is going to be catastrophic.    According to these scientists, more than half of the world’s nine billion people already live within fifty kilometres of an “impaired” water resource.  Impaired as they warn are sources that are running dry and are polluted.  And about a billion are using the non-renewable ground water resources.   We are running out of water or towards filthy water that cannot support life.  Odisha, as we have been warning repeatedly for more than one and half decades now, is a hot bed of climate change.  Its unique placement at head of the Bay of Bengal makes it more vulnerable to climate’s vagaries.

Globally, as well as in Odisha, the way we are urbanizing has a major contribution in the catastrophe that stares at our face.  Cities are growing awfully fast and vast, and that too at the cost of our villages and natural resources.  Gross Domestic Product driven economic growth has outsmarted the natural resourced based sustainable economies of this country.  Farm lands shrink, farmers die or move to cities in search of survival.  Neither they get a good life nor their knowledge of sustainable management of natural resources are integrated in city planning where concrete becomes the mantra.  So, in nutshell, we impoverish them yet lose the opportunity to learn from them.  We are a gross failure in planning our cities.  We have covered up all the natural spaces with concrete structures.  We find water bodies as real estate opportunities.  We make rivers our dumping grounds.  And we don’t even spare our flood plains.  Construct, construct and construct wherever there is an inch of space available.  And city life is a major culprit in causing climate change both directly and indirectly.

After abusing all surface water sources, we are now exhausting our ground water resources.  As a result, cities are becoming water insecure and are increasingly dependent on the villages – both nearby and far off – for their water requirements.  And this means more conflict between the urban and rural areas.  Irrigation would further shrink and cities would receive more influx of villagers.  We have to relook development of landscapes in a complete new perspective.  Without promoting centralized ecologically destructive and water insensitive and insecure cities, we should promote cities based on principles of sustainable management of water and ecological management.  We still have to learn from the villagers such principles.  Cities should secure their own water resources by properly planning city as ecological landscapes rather than cementscapes.  The farmers and forest dwellers in villages should get rewarded for their traditional knowledge and wisdom of conservation and ecological restoration.  Dignifiedly remunerative price for agro and forestry products; and providing all basic amenities including education, health care, drinking water and sanitation in villages could help build the cities healthy and happy. 

A citizen driven initiative has already begun to build a healthy relationship between city dwellers and Rivers.  We are calling it “Healthy Rivers, Happy Cities”.  We are asking questions to the political leaders about their agenda on these issues.  Are you asking?

Note: This article was originally published by an e-magazine 'Amalekha' on 1st April, 2014.

[1] Convenor of Water Initiatives Odisha, he is a leading water expert of the nation and a senior freelance journalist. Phone: 9437050103, Email: ranjanpanda@gmail.com

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