When Nature warns us, we better listen

The avalanche in Uttarakhand resulting in the death of at least 19 climbers is a cruel reminder of the repercussions of ignoring or outright damaging ecosystems. It also underscores that climate change is not a problem of the future, but one which we are living through.

As India develops, urbanises, and grows its economy, it must seriously factor in the risk posed by reckless urbanisation and rising temperatures into its plans. This means developing solutions that will ensure growth without putting ecosystems — and lives — in peril.

The Himalayan ecosystem is a fragile one. So, building infrastructure in the region must take this into account. The region’s carrying capacity, the use of suitable technology and design must be central to the planning process. Risk assessment must be hardwired into planning and building infrastructure and habitation, especially given the Himalayan region’s crucial role in India’s hydrological system, food and water security.

Scientists observe that there has been a 0.16°C increase per decade globally. This rise of temperature doubles in the higher elevations of the Himalayas. The global average temperature has increased by 1.2°C since the pre-industrial period. As temperatures rise further, there is serious danger of increased glacial melt in the Himalayan area. It will mean more flooding, more avalanches and more disasters. Ergo, this is not a ‘First World only’ problem.

Much of the impacts of warming cannot be reversed. But what must happen is to build disaster-resilient infrastructure and to develop in a manner that minimises the risk of disaster from cumulative damage, whether from bad construction, urbanisation and industrial planning, or from apathy. When nature warns us, we should heed it.

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