Droughts to Floods

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Mark our words. Today the people are in a panic fearing the worst if the heavens do not open up soon and send rains to quench the anxiety of this parched landscape. Tomorrow they could very well be looking to the heavens again to pray the rains be stopped lest everything goes underwater. It is true rainfall patterns have changed in the past few decades because of global warming. But Manipur`™s tragedy is not just the vagaries of the climate. It is also about the institutional lethargy to try and understand its own living environment, not to speak of any credible effort to prepare for possible catastrophic consequences of climate change. This change can be even more dangerous for fragile habitats, and it is our intuition that Manipur would fall in this category. The hints for this we are witnessing today. Just a little shift in the annual rainfall pattern and the place, the hills as well as the valley, can easily lose it capacity to support even its current population. Even though it has been less than a month after the seasonal winter showers (or Wakching-gi Nong in Manipuri) ceased, the state is suffering from an acute shortage of potable water. If not for the precious foresights of rulers of a past era who envisioned the importance of water preservation and dug huge community ponds and moats at vantage points, probably we would already be visited by annual disasters of drought and flood deaths. But the old aqua regulation infrastructures are proving inadequate to support the increased population and changed climatic conditions, and if the current generation of leaders continue to be in their complacent rentier mindset, enriching themselves without sparing any thoughts to ensuring future survival security of the place, these disaster can still become a reality. The crisis can even become an existential threat. To picture what such a scenario would be, imagine the current dry spell extended for another five or six months. There would be an exodus of people fleeing the state. Let nobody be certain such a scenario is impossible. Human history of the last 12,000 years, after the last Ice Age receded, has many accounts of societies which once flourished but disappeared because of their unpreparedness to meet the challenges of the climate. Anthropologist and popular science writer, Jared M Diamond`™s 2005 book, `Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fall or Succeed`, has very convincing accounts of such societies which perished because of their environmental short-sightedness and others which outlived the worst odds. Interestingly, one of the shared attributes of all societies which perished, is a self absorbed elite, more interested in accumulating personal wealth than taking the lead role in building a common future.

Two vital lessons from history are: One, societies do go extinct. Two, leadership do matter a lot and in this, the society`™s elite have a big responsibility to shoulder. Manipur is, in this sense, in a precarious situation. The entire society is so myopically content living for the immediate. Few seem to have ambition that go beyond getting rich quick, building a house, buying expensive cars. Quite naturally, corruption becomes the rule of this game. Nobody thinks of giving back to the larger society, never realising if the ship sinks, everybody, including them would sink. Take Imphal city. In the last few decades alone, the elaborate traditional networks of drainage system that we know as `khongban`, again the product of the vision of planners from a past era, have all but disappeared because of land encroachment by ordinary residents. Wetlands that once served as flood regulatory natural water reservoirs, such as Lamphel-pat, Porom-pat, Thanga-pat, Takyel-pat, etc, have also all been land-filled and reclaimed to build government infrastructures and residential colonies. Deforestation have robbed the hill soils of moisture retention capacity so that within a month or so of the monsoon ending, all water drains away, leaving both the hills first and then the valley below, parched ahead of time. Why has there been no effort to evolve a grand plan to tackle this issue? Do our political leadership not consider this important? The state also has a huge legion of engineers. Where is the evidence of their presence in terms of such a plan? If at the first spell of showers ending the current drought-like situation, the people are again left to face floods, that should be a governance failure enough to occasion ministries falling. In medieval Japan those at the helm probably would have acutely felt the shame of failure and committed hara-kiri. Indeed, in Jared Diamond`™s book, Japan, the extremely vulnerable Island nation, is one of those societies which tamed its hostile environment to survive through the ages despite extreme adversities.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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