Who cares about the environment? Some notes on the ecological crisis in India
The past few months have been exceptional, in one respect at least, for the Indian press: a serious structural problem has actually been given the attention it deserves. The Economic Times continues to play a prominent part in discussing air pollution in Delhi – there is no other city in the world where it is so bad. Nor is this all: including Delhi, India now boasts thirteen out of twenty cities with the worst air. More recently, the uproar over supposedly high levels of lead in a brand of junk food led to a (very) few articles on groundwater contamination: after all, the reason why lead and other poisons get into food is because they are present in the soil in which crops grow. Another piece, in the Guardian this time, speculated that the recent Sahelian heat wave in the Deccan might be a symptom of climate change (an “extreme” climate event of the kind likely to become all too common).
These stories are only a tiny fraction of those that could be reported, for we are already in the throes of an unprecedented environmental crisis. Large swathes of our agricultural soils are contaminated or saline. Pesticide residues and heavy metals form part of our food. The air of our major cities is unfit to breathe. Freshwater availability is declining; most rivers, especially in the south, do not flow at all, or only seasonally, since their runoff is impounded in dams and used for irrigation (with very high rates of seepage and evaporation loss). Groundwater tables are falling as a consequence of over extraction and the disappearance of vegetative cover enabling percolation. The pattern of weather is being reset with gaps and lags – the available evidence indicates that the onset of the monsoon is changing and precipitation becoming more uneven. Our offshore seas are denuded of marine life thanks to trawler fishing at ever greater distances. Himalayan glaciers are shrinking with obvious long-term consequences for the hydrology of river systems dependent upon snow-melt. Sudden, destructive floods, exacerbated by embankments and dams, the building over of river valleys and floodplains, have become a regular occurrence. Read more…