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Climate crisis in India: floods destroyed her house four times in three years

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Climate crisis in India: floods destroyed her house four times in three years

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“We woke up to people crying for help,” said Yadav, 26, of that night in July 2019. “The water had gone up to our heads… and I saw people to be washed away by the water of my own eyes. “

Throughout his life, the wall had protected Yadav and his neighbors from increasingly severe monsoon storms. His house had never been damaged before, but now that the wall is gone, he has had to rebuild his house four times in three years.

Every year, thousands of people die in India from floods and landslides during the monsoon, which inundates the country from June to September.

Monsoon is a natural meteorological phenomenon caused by the hot and humid air which crosses the Indian Ocean towards South Asia over the seasons. But the climate crisis has caused the event to become more extreme and unpredictable.

India’s poor, like Yadav, are among the most vulnerable.

“The irony is that the world’s poor are actually victims of climate change,” even though they were not the “creating the problem,” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Center for Science and Technology. the environment and veteran Indian environmentalist.

This weekend, world leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 climate talks as they seek to cut carbon emissions and avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.

Yet for millions of Indians, promises on paper will not save their homes. The climate crisis is already at their doorstep – and it’s overturning the picture.

Four houses lost in three years

Mumbai, the country’s most populous city, boasts glittering skyscrapers and glitzy luxury hotels. It is also a city of widespread poverty and wealth inequality, where about 65% of its 12 million inhabitants live in tarpaulin and tin shacks in overcrowded slums.
Yadav and his mother were evacuated to a school after their home was first swept away in 2019. The flood had killed 32 people, and authorities said the slum was too dangerous to live in – but when an offer new housing did not materialize, Yadav and his mother returned to the slum to rebuild themselves.

“My house is about 10 feet by 15 feet and the floor is dirt,” Yadav said. “In this ground, we hammered wooden poles. We tie them together and then cover it with plastic sheeting. If there is a cyclone or a strong wind, it will be completely uprooted.”

Family members began to keep the rare valuables they had in plastic bags, so they could be disposed of quickly. But there isn’t much you can protect.

During the 2020 monsoon, Yadav and his mother lost their home, clothes and precious food again due to rain and flooding. This happened again in May of this year, when a massive cyclone hit the west coast of India – an unusual event, as they usually hit the east coast.

Yadav said that by then people were fed up with the authorities and the constant cycle of destruction, evacuation and reconstruction. “How can we live this way? ” he said.

The most recent disaster came in September, at the end of this year’s monsoon season, when debris from past flooding swept through the slum.

“It was around 1:30 am and debris started to flow,” Yadav said. “It was raining a lot and we heard him move.”

Flood tears apart the Ambedkar Nagar slum near Mumbai, India in September 2021. Credit: Anish Yadav

Residents were again evacuated to the school, where they remain to this day with little clean water or electricity and no toilets.

“We have no idea when we will return or find another home,” Yadav said.

“(The authorities) are just saying that we will have housing in three or four days, but nothing is being done. People have lost their jobs and they have no money for food. The system is to blame here. . “

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, Mumbai’s governing body, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Places become unlivable

As the climate crisis worsens, The floods pose a particular danger to the 35% of India’s population – around 472 million people – who live in urban slums, according to the World Bank.

Muralee Thummarukudy, acting head of the UN Environment Program’s global disaster and conflict resilience support arm, said slum dwellers tend to live in fragile structures on the outskirts of cities. cities where the land is less stable and more prone to natural disasters. They also often lack the insurance to rebuild or relocate.

These residents are also more vulnerable to the side effects of flooding, including the spread of water-borne diseases, contamination of groundwater and loss of food resources.

Rajan Samuel, Managing Director in India of Habitat for Humanity, says disasters destroy livelihoods as well as homes.

“The trend that I see is that livelihoods are disrupted with every disaster and then there is shelter that disappears as well,” he said. “We have to mitigate both.”

Some states have taken action, such as Odisha, which has built stormwater drains in its slums, or Kerala, which offers financial incentives for residents of climate-vulnerable places to resettle.
Yet at the national level, progress has been slow. Several ambitious initiatives to improve slums and renovate cities have failed over the past two decades, hampered by lack of funding, insufficient participation, poor planning or the bureaucracy of the Indian bureaucracy, according to a number of international organizations, researchers and local media.
Climate crisis in India: floods destroyed her house four times in three years

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And although the government is now training Indian cities to become ‘climate smart’, experts say there are many more steps to be taken, such as improving drainage processes and overhauling water supply systems. and other urban infrastructure.

Narain, the Center for Science and the Environment, said existing the systems were built “at a time when disasters were happening again every 10 years, once every five years. Today it’s 10 disasters a year.”

Recent floods, droughts and other devastating weather events “all show us very clearly what the future will be,” she added.

Climate migrants

For years, climate experts and scientists have warned that the climate crisis could displace more than a billion people over the next few decades, potentially forming a class of “climate migrants” and refugees. Flooding is one of the main dangers, with record rainfall wreaking havoc in Germany and China this summer.
In India, people are already on the move.
Natural disasters forced more than 5 million Indians from their homes in 2019, according to a study by the Institute for Economics and Peace in Sydney. And this number should increase as the climate crisis worsens.

Many of these displaced Indians, like Yadav, have no way of moving and have no choice but to continually rebuild their homes in places prone to disasters.

Climate crisis in India: floods destroyed her house four times in three years

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Yadav and his family are reluctant to leave their plot of land in the slum unless the government offers an alternative.

He and his mother now survive on their meager savings, money borrowed from relatives and money earned from pawning their jewelry.

Right now, he’s losing hope and dreading the idea of ​​having to rebuild – again.

“It has been going on for so long,” Yadav said. “You never know if the water will flood the house and destroy the house.”

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