Anticipating disasters

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In ever increasing frequencies, there are warnings of possible natural disasters of magnitudes never seen before. Besides earthquakes, the dangers of which nobody can dispute, disasters can be in shape of Manipur’s known natural bounties turning monstrous. The abundance of rain the state receives, and the fertility this ensures to its soil, is one of these. The devastating floods the state has seen in the past few years should bring back archetypal memories preserved in myths, folklores and legends, where it is said, Imphal Valley was once upon a time a huge lake, and as it drained, people began descending into it so settle and discover the blessings of bountiful flatland agriculture. The floods that we have seen in recent times therefore are in a way cautions as to how vulnerable the Imphal valley still is, and that it can return to its primal hydro world. Rains have caused devastating floods, but just imagine what would have happened if the rains carried on for longer, a scenario not altogether impossible, if the predictions of global warming and climate change by scientists are anything to go by. The floods caused would then be much more extensive. But more than this, in the event of a much larger volume of flood water inundating the valley, the second scenario is even more alarming. Up to a certain level, the Loktak lake and other still surviving natural wetlands can act as reservoirs and absorb flood waters. That is to say, only so long as flood water volume is within this limit, the buffer provided by these natural reservoirs would ensure farmlands and residences are spared total destruction. But just suppose the flood water volume exceeds this limit in any given year. Since there is very little outflow of water away from the valley, the excess waters would have little or no place to drain away, and farmlands and homesteads would remain inundated until the water evaporates. A hint of such scenarios were available during some of the recent bad floods. Long after the rains ceased, many low lying areas were still water logged, as the rivers that brought the waters were unable to reabsorb them. If freak rains persist every year, and come before the previous year’s flood waters have receded, the flooded areas would incrementally expand, with the possibility that ultimately water would reclaim the entire valley. In the manner that much of the low lying coastal regions of the world, including Bangladesh, Netherlands, Florida etc, are predicted to be swallowed up by the sea in the event of global warming melting of the polar ice caps, much of the Imphal valley too then would be an extended lake from permanent flood waters.

The moot point is, what possible preemptive remedies can there be? The first thing that most believers in a supernatural order would do is to pray, but that would not be a resort for agnostics. Whatever the case may be, it would still be prudent to prepare for the worst, even if one were to continue hoping for the best. The second, but a rather long term strategy would be to join the global effort to arrest climate change. This would entail first and foremost, trying to understand what this is all about. The last proposition that we would like to suggest has to do with the question of preparing for the worst case scenario. The Imphal valley is at an altitude of over 2000 feet above mean sea level, which means that given the outlets, gravity would ensure that water drains out of the place. This fact itself should be capitalised into devising safety valves for the valley from any possible future water disaster. Apart from the river that flow out of the Loktak lake to ultimately join the river system in Myanmar and ultimately the sea, artificial tunnels of the Loktak Hydro Electric Plant use the same principle of gravity to divert water away from the lake to turn the project turbines and ultimately join the Barak River system and then the sea. Such artificial outlets could be made to have a double purpose, i.e., hydro-electric generation as well as emergency water drainage. This would be in the manner the elaborate labyrinths of subway train tunnels deep down into the earth in many American and European cities, were also designed during the Cold War to couple up nuclear shelters in the eventuality of a nuclear nightmare which had become a real threat then. The nuclear holocaust did not happen, but the subway systems are not a waste because they are also fundamentally an important city transport infrastructure. Likewise, climate change and a subsequent water disaster may or may not be Imphal valley’s future, but the hydroelectric tunnels would still be performing their fundamental purpose of producing electricity.

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