When It Rains, It Deluges

Rainfall has historically been something to look forward to, but India recently has learned firsthand the lesson about having too much of a good thing. As the death toll continues to rise, the rain continues to fall, and the pressures it puts on the people of the region create several social problems. This natural disaster is perhaps a product of an increasingly-unstable environment; every disaster is a reminder of what may come next. It would not have been quite a problem if the area in which it occurred did not suffer from overpopulation, but this fusion of urbanization and erratic weather only compounded the problems.

Increased urbanization, and to a lesser degree the affect of our species on the environment, has led to a disturbing death toll in flooded regions of India. Much of the regions that were affected were in low-lying areas, and were susceptible to this kind of weather. The fact that it happened only proves the dangerous state the locals exists in. If large numbers of people are inadequately housed or protected in these areas, they are much more likely to suffer serious consequences, even by those things that are caused by people in other parts of the world. The connectedness we share with everyone across the world is emphasized when our indirect actions directly affect the lives of others we believe have no connection to us. Though the people of Mumbai and surrounding areas must solve the problem of overpopulation and urbanization themselves, the rest of the industrialized world must do what it can to reduce events like these through responsible energy consumption.

Mumbai, the official name for the city hardest hit by these floods, is more commonly known to Americans as Bombay (4). Hundreds of people have died in Mumbai this past week because of landslides, drowning, electrocution in flooded streets and even suffocation in their cars (6). Mumbai was hit by 37 inches of rainfall on the 26th of July, which was the heaviest downpour in a century (2). Approximately 25,000 sheep and goats, and 2,500 buffaloes also drowned in Mumbai (1). The majority of deaths occurred (and continue to occur) in the lowest-income regions of the cities, where a third of the 12 million people of Mumbai live (3). 60,000 or more villagers are living in temporary camps outside of Mumbai (5).

Because Mumbai is known for its intense economic power, many people seem to be ignoring their plight on the basis that they have the resources to handle the crisis. Locals insist, however, that this is not the case. P. Unnikrishnan of Action Aid International said that the, “media portray Mumbai’s economic might and think receding waters are good. The ground situation is entirely different. Relief materials are only reaching isolated places” (5). The threat to the people is not seen as a threat to the nation’s economy because it is seen as a short-term problem. Consequently, much-needed aid is not getting to those who require it (3). One major problem facing both city officials and locals is the tendency for the suddenly-homeless to wander back to their neighborhoods. Though they do this because they have nowhere else to go, it still creates problems for the local government. It puts more individuals at risk and stresses the already thin emergency response (1).

The Indian government has been criticized for the way they have handled this crisis. Though it was an unavoidable natural disaster, the death tool has led many to ask if it could have been better handled. The response often cited in defense of the government is the absolutely unprecedented amount of rainfall. With over three feet of rain pouring on the city in a single day, it is unlikely that any government could have prevented such an event. Officials contest that their response has been adequate, especially given the unusual nature of the weather (3). The United States has given no official response to this particular issue, though they are undoubtedly aware of it. President Bush does not see a connection between this and global warming, but he is sure that the rain hates freedom.

Many people maintain that the government could not have anticipated this kind of flooding, but there are still those who (perhaps rightfully) find reason to complain. Food and clean water are the most important things to those affected by the flooding, and they desperately need more of it to come their way. As with any considerable social problem, many people are also asking why the aid is not flowing freely to them. In a matter of life and death, though, they can hardly be considered greedy.

Though the vast majority of Americans will not be directly affected by this event, some people will be. Either by family connections or personal interests, not even the fact that this happened on the other side of the planet will keep some people separate from the ordeal. These are the people most likely to be seen asking their fellow Americans to help in the aid effort, which will (though minutely) increase awareness of the issue.

One perspective that may be stressed is the ecological factor. Was this event, something that was extremely disastrous and equally unusual, the result of natural causes or is human activity somehow to blame? This is not an appeal to the deities for possible transgressions on the part of humanity, but a serious question raised by scientists in relevant fields of research. The ecosystem tends to be stable, and sudden instability should is seen as a sudden break from the norm. Far from being a freak occurrence, the flooding in India could be yet another red flag in our handling (or rather, our mishandling) of the environment.

The media has been very balanced in covering the actual events in the past couple weeks. The significant death toll, the fact that it happened to a prosperous country, and the particularly gruesome facts about how people died have appeared in virtually the same manner throughout all of the sources I looked through. The only true differences were in their perspectives, and it was usually based on the publication in which it appeared. The BusinessWeek article, not surprisingly, talked about the losses the country suffered in terms of prospective economic outcomes, while the BBC article focused on the human tragedy created by the flooding. Very few articles, it should be noted, mentioned the potential correlation between this event and human impression upon the environment, though there were a few mentions of it.

To the issue of problems created by urbanization of the area, only local changes will effectively resolve how to handle a major flood such as this. Fortunately, this kind of catastrophe is rare, and future problems will be much easier to deal with. As for the deeper, more elusive cause of the flooding itself, we should look to the skies, literally. If it is revealed that we have had no impact on the environment, and this was just a freak incident, then there is nothing to worry about as there is nothing we can do to prevent it. However, if it is later discovered that this downpour (and other weather events like it) are indeed the result of our interaction with the environment, then all humans share a duty to confront these issues and solve them quickly and appropriately.

List of Works Consulted
1. “India Monsoon Death Toll Rises to 910.” Fox News. <http://foxnews.com/>
2. “India’s Rains May Ease, Bringing Relief to Flood-Hit Mumbai.” Bloomberg.com. <http://bloomberg.com/>
3. Mahapatra, Rajesh. “Bombay floodings batter country’s image.” BusinessWeek Online. <http://businessweek.com/>
4. “Monsoon death toll in India about 1,000.” Science Daily. <http://sciencedaily.com/>
5. “Mumbai struggles back to normal.” BBC News. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/>
6. “Torrential rains pound Mumbai.” CNN. <http://cnn.com/>


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