December initiates several conversations: the crisp weather, the beautiful, sunny landscapes, the ideal ‘kadak-ness’ of our tea, and, of course, the lilting sounds of Christmas carols amidst mesmerising night skies. Winters, truly, is when you must visit the Northeast. From the sun-kissed plains of Assam to the bone-chilling mountains of Sikkim and Arunachal, there is something for every visitor.
But for how long?
Anyone living in Guwahati would agree that the winter here has become much milder, so much so that no one needs warm clothes during the day anymore. But to use that as an example for climate change would be simplistic and erroneous. But in November, a World Bank report on Climate Investment Opportunities in India’s Cooling sector showed us that if our present is troublesome, our future looks scary, to say the least. And of course, this barely made headlines.
“Currently, in India, the wet bulb temperature during the worst heat waves rarely, if ever, exceeds 32-degree centigrade. However, climate models project that these temperatures could exceed the survivability threshold (that is 35-degree centigrade) at a few locations in the Chota Nagpur plateau and Northeast India under future climate scenarios of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report known as Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) scenarios,” the report states.
The wet bulb temperature, which is considered better than dry bulb temperature, is measured by thermometers that are wrapped in wetted wicks. The greater the wet bulb depression, the greater the felt effect is on the discharge air temperature.
I am not anti-dam or anti-infrastructure projects, and I am not one of those who believe that the Northeast should remain stuck in the 19th century so that it can conform to some exotic notions. We, more than any other part of India, need to focus on building many more roads, hospitals, schools, colleges and industries. It is unfair to expect the Northeast to act as if they are the only ones entrusted with protecting rivers and forests while the rest of the country marches ahead with multi-billion development projects.
But we cannot continue acting as if climate change is just an assumption, because we are already seeing the consequences.
The summer season across India was never easy for those who cannot afford electricity, air conditioners, and 24/7 water. However, it has become unbearable for most regions, especially central India, and it is not as if we in the Northeast are not feeling the same. But the erratic rain now poses the biggest danger to our region, as illustrated this year by the devastating ‘pre-monsoon’ floods in the Dima Hasao and the Barak Valley regions of Assam.
Dima Hasao received months’ worth of rain in a few weeks, while Silchar in Barak Valley saw devastating floods after 15 years. And before you say “weather irregularities,” allow me to remind you that the worst damage in Dima Hasao occurred during the pre-monsoon season. We are not supposed to be getting so much rain in pre-monsoons, but we did, and the district of Dima Hasao alone suffered damages worth Rs 400 crore. Most people may have forgotten the devastating visuals of the Haflong railway station, but we haven’t. Let us not forget, this railway station took two decades to complete, and yet, it took only one bad season to return to ground zero.
And then, during the monsoon season, we witnessed drought. Even the Assam government acknowledged the same in August.
Elsewhere, we witnessed seemingly never-ending landslides in Sikkim, Meghalaya, Mizoram and parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Meghalaya too saw most of the damage during the pre-monsoon season. By the first week of June, when the monsoon was supposed to arrive, the state had already witnessed the collapse of several crucial roads, and several people lost their lives, including 4 in one tragedy.
And then there was Noney.
In one night, the upcoming railway project in Manipur was reduced to rubble, killing over 60 people, and to this day some of the bodies remain lost. I was one of the first from outside Manipur to arrive at the spot, and it is unlikely that I will forget the images anytime soon. A whole hill, it seemed, had disappeared, wiping out everything in its wake. As we had explained then, we could blame several factors, but this region also received excess rainfall in a short span.
The Indian government has shown a lackadaisical attitude in its fight against climate change. The simple truth is this: our future is not just compromised, the concept of a future is itself an uncertainty now. Yet, we seem far more interested in fighting over every other issue except climate change.
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Can someone tell me how the BJP, for example, aims to fight climate change and how it differs from the Congress? Does any political party in India have any idea how to fight climate change at all? Beyond empty promises and cliched claims to protect the environment, what is the plan? Assam now goes from floods to drought in the same year. What is the government doing to fight either? What were the lessons learnt from the Dima Hasao floods? How will we ensure a Noney-like disaster does not happen again? Remember the ban on single-use plastic? I applaud you if you think it is being implemented.
Climate change does not care less about your political ideology. To those who deny it, I have nothing to say. But unfortunately, even those who acknowledge it couldn’t care less. As we get to the end of another year, I am worried, to say the least. I am worried that we are running out of time. We are doomed to fight as Right vs Left, Local vs Outsider, Tribal vs Non-Tribals, and Haves vs Have-nots. I wish I could say Happy New Year to all of you without an ounce of worry or scepticism. The truth is, it is only going to get worse for all of us. And for the Northeast, I only dread what lies in store.
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