Ah! The smell of the first rain on dry ground…. We all love it, don’t we?
I have now been back home in India for a month following the Climate Educators’ Skillshare. When I came home my country was experiencing a record-breaking heatwave. Now, the rain.
No one had imagined that this years’ early arrival of the otherwise much-awaited monsoons would turn ugly in the hills and play havoc with the destiny of the thousands of people in the region including both the locals and the tourists. Many of the tourists were on the ‘Char Dham yatra’: A Hindu pilgrimage to four holy towns in the Himalayan state of Uttrakhand. The incessant rainfall experienced over the last weekend led to widespread devastation and misery that is unfolding its story with each passing day.
My heart goes out to all those who were caught unawares as the tragedy struck. Those, who lost their family members and hundreds others who have no information about their loved ones. No one has. There are vague figures. Defense personnel have been working round the clock. Two districts have been totally destroyed - Rudra Prayag and Tehri Garhwal. The rehabilitation and reconstruction will be another long and arduous journey in an undulating terrain. The pictures of the tragedy display dreadful scenes. It hits you deep inside. Nature in its fury, as never seen before! Ganges: The ‘Mighty River’ flowing with its full might, taking along whatever came in its way. Many parts of the state have been ravaged and swept away by the tributaries of river Ganga. The water is gradually reaching the plains around Delhi and we could be in a rude shock of another tragedy waiting to unfold when it starts raining once again in the coming week. Believe it or not, we are gradually edging towards it.
I am deeply disturbed with what we have witnessed. I hope every Indian is.
We could have definitely prevented these unfathomable conditions that have left innumerable families traumatized. The first question that comes to ones mind, ‘Who is responsible’? The answer is rather evident. Human action. It may seem like a natural disaster at first, but it is not. We all are equally responsible. The government, the meteorological department, the environmentalists, the disaster management authority, the tourism ministry; each had a role to play. But the irony of the situation is that each one is blaming the other. What we lack is coordination between stakeholders. And so nature taught us a lesson. A lesson which will be long remembered.
Himalayas are earthquake prone and cannot take stress of any kind. We all have learnt the basics in school. Our students experience these mountains during our annual adventure camps when we visit Uttrakhand. Class 11 and 12 participate in two different expeditions on Yamuna and Ganga respectively, and therefore this area is well known to us. Landslides are a common feature and my discussions with the students are focused on the formation and the brittle nature of these mountains. The northernmost part of the state is comprised of the Greater Himalayas with some of the loftiest peaks and glaciers; the lower reaches are less compressed and are largely formed of unconsolidated material. All that holds them together is trees. However, over the years due to rapid urbanization around tourist spots there has been unchecked deforestation as well as construction that has loosened the soil further. The bumper-to-bumper construction of small dams for electricity has created unwanted stress all along the water bodies. Illegal construction and sand mining mafia have meddled with the beauty and balance of this region. All these reasons clearly explain the extent of human interference in a natural area. We are definitely not living in coherence with nature!
Subsequent to my training with The Climate Reality Project in January 2011, I have taken the discussions further with my students about the visible effects of global warming through the film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. It has enabled them to link the loss of glaciers due to global warming and the resultant flooding of the banks. They visit these glaciers during their annual expeditions. School students seem to be well equipped to make good decisions for the future. What I fail to understand is that if a school student knows the basics, the government would have known much more. All they needed to do is implement plans keeping in mind the ecological balance of the area and simultaneously empowering people by educating them about disaster management and survival techniques to reduce its impact. We need to accept that we are vulnerable to many such events in the near future if we do not pay heed to the warnings of nature and act sensibly.
My recent trip to Melbourne on the Climate Educators’ Skillshare has helped me to reflect upon what we need to reinforce at the school level. Much more needs to be done at the primary level and I am looking forward to sharing my experiences and helping my colleagues to integrate environmental education more effectively. Our entire staff is familiar with the concept of climate change caused due to global warming and the resulting impacts. Now it’s time for the next step.
We as teachers need to expand our area of influence, as we are equipped with information and skills to save precious life. We need to reduce the impacts of climate change, but at the same time be prepared for those that are unavoidable. People must adhere to warnings and adopt best practices. We need to continuously reiterate the need to live in harmony with nature. I look forward to getting back to school to make a larger positive difference within and outside of school.
By: Mona Datta, Vasant Valley School, New Delhi, India