LPPYF Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship is an Online National Summer School Program, a Two- Month Online Immersive Legal Awareness & Action Research Certificate Training Course and Internship Program, from June-August 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on“Environment, Disasters and Sustainability” was held on the 14th July 2023, by, Prof Anil K Gupta, Head of Division, International Cooperation, Advisory Services, e-learning & Media Portfolio; Director of Projects & CoE; Full Professor of Policy Planning & Strategies, National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), New Delhi.
Prof Gupta started the session by mentioning that disaster risk reduction, adaptation and sustainability, though being dealt with separately, require an interdisciplinary and integrated approach. Further, he talked about how there is a direct relationship between the ecological footprint per person and the happiness score, thereby leading to a dichotomy where the compromise of ecological systems has become necessary to some extent to attain development amidst the social and political pressure to steer forward on the path of economic prosperity. He highlighted the transition from Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) leading to a shift in focus from physical growth and welfare to a growth that sustains over time.
The Land Crisis
Prof Gupta conveyed that the ecological implications of major developmental projects have, in a way, contributed to disaster-related vulnerability. There are an increasing number of land and water conflicts. The water crisis can be dealt with its share of challenges with technological advancements, however, the land crisis is impending upon us since land is a limiting factor.
India hosted the 14th conference of parties at the United Nations Convention on combating desertification in 2019. All member countries jointly agreed upon developing an action plan to release land back to nature which seems to be ironic with the ever-increasing demand for land. However, it is inevitable today to release land back to nature because of the country-wide deluge that we are facing which is a direct result of landscape changes.
In the context of the recent Delhi floods, he mentioned that based on the maps of Delhi from the Mughal period, Yamuna has not encroached, instead, we have encroached on Yamuna’s land. Moreover, since water is a product of land, land conflicts result in water insecurity. He talked about the need for considering land as a living entity like rivers in Revenue Records as it supports vast biodiversity, food production and watershed services etc.
Disaster Risk Reduction
Prof Gupta elucidated that when it comes to disasters, the primary focus first shifted from search and rescue to risk mitigation and preparedness. Today, due to climate change, extreme events like heavy changes in precipitation patterns, heat waves, and cyclones, the primary focus has shifted to disaster risk reduction throughout the year and is not limited to a particular hazardous situation. Now, risk reduction covers three types of environmental changes; climate change, land use change and natural resource degradation. Further, he mentioned that India is one of the world’s hotspots for the impact of climate change.
There are two types of impact of climate change in reference to vulnerability:
- Climate change brings shock events and contributes to higher levels of uncertainties like sudden changes in weather. He also pointed out that India’s weather forecasting is not as accurate due to a lot of local influences on our climatic system like the local heat flux, topography and biodiversity etc.
- Climate change is also contributing towards reducing biodiversity and bioproductivity and also compromising ecological services like water, climate moderation and wetlands which are natural flood control systems.
Linkages between Disasters and Sustainability
Prof Gupta talked about how the discourse about disaster risk reduction with reference to environment also touches upon climate change and sustainability, thus emphasizing the need for carbon neutrality, intergenerational equity, green growth strategy and effective waste management.
Further, he explained how disasters and extreme climatic events bring behvioural extremities in people and increase poverty as livelihood is severely affected. Moreover, the causal relationship exists both ways, environment degradation results in disaster risks but disasters also result in environmental degradation, for instance, the cyclone Fani broke the Chilka Lake into three parts and uprooted many trees.
He emphasised the need for more research on how ecological systems are affected by disasters since currently the post disaster damage assessment is done mainly for the economy and the society. He also highlighted the drawbacks of the search and rescue approach for saving lives and livelihood during a disaster. Often, forests are cleared in order to make an alternative route and the waste debris is dumped in a low lying wetland area without thinking about its consequences on the environment which could further lead to future disasters.
After the COVID 19 pandemic, most of the corporate sustainability discourses have started considering disaster risk as a major impediment to the sustainability of the business. Citing the example of water supply shut down in Delhi due to the floods, he explained that the sustainability of smart cities, which are built around the idea of proficient system of delivery of goods and services, is also affected during disasters.
How various disasters have affected our environment?
About 28% of the Sunderbans was damaged; around 1,200 sq km of the 4,263 sq km forests had been destroyed. Almost 5000 trees, several of which are over 50 years old, were uprooted.
ASSAM GAS AND OIL PLANT EXPLOSION
There are reports that the condensate is falling into Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung wetland too. Reported deaths of Gangetic Dolphins and a variety of other biodiversity.
VIZAG GAS LEAK
All the trees in the vicinity where the gas leak occurred, were either fully or partially dry. Moreover, there is a possibility of long term impact on future health, livestock and on elements of the biota like air, water, soil, flora and fauna. Gas leak is also reported to have polluted other water bodies and drinking water.
Our water bodies are filled with silt and garbage post disasters, thereby contaminating our water. Wildfires and forest fires, in addition to destroying huge forest lands and vegetation, are also connected with our health due the generation of excessive amounts of smoke.
Thus, sustainability is also compromised by various kinds of disasters.
Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030
India is a party to Sendai Framework for disaster risk reduction for a period of 2015-30. It promotes the mainstreaming of disaster risk assessments into land-use policy development and implementation, including urban planning, land degradation assessments and informal and non-permanent housing, and the use of guidelines and follow-up tools informed by anticipated demographic and environmental changes. Moreover, India is also a party to Paris Agreement and SDGs for the same period.
Disaster Vulnerability of India
India has more than 60 percent of its landmass prone to earthquake. More than 40 million hectares are directly affected by the riverine floods excluding urban floods and mountain areas. 8 percent of the country is prone to cyclones.
In his concluding remarks, he said that the true meaning of development is balance, a middle path, where we focus equally on economic growth and ecological system so that we can mitigate the disasters and attain long-term sustainability.
The chair of the session, Prof Vibhuti Patel commended the comprehensive and scientific presentation by Prof Anil K Gupta and reiterated the need for social cost benefit analysis to address the dilemma of economic growth and sustainability.
This was followed by a question and answer session which involved a discussion around the steps that can be taken at an individual and local level to mitigate disasters, the need for starting advocacy by setting good examples, the role of young generation towards sustainability, the frequent Assam floods, the stagnant economic growth which is attributed to the ecological slowdown and the role of a circular economy.
Nikita is a research intern at IMPRI.
Youtube Video of Inaugural session for Law and Public Policy Youth Fellowship Programme: https://youtu.be/fT0XLKGJ6LY
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