There’s nothing new about floods in Assam. But this time around, the context has changed. We are living in the age of climate change where floods, erratic rainfall and drought can occur in the unlikeliest of places. Remember how parts of Rajasthan were flooded last year?
This raises a question on the safety of wildlife in protected areas and underscores the need to improve our wildlife management. We need an adaptation plan for India’s most endangered species to ensure that we don’t lose them to floods or droughts.
To begin with, we must identify and map the areas that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Only then can we formulate plans to save our wildlife. These plans must be pre-emptive. The authorities at the Kaziranga National Park, for example, are building raised islands in flood-prone areas, though it’s too early to predict if this will help or not. Pre-emptive measures also include preservation of existing eco-systems like wetlands that reduce the effects of floods.
Second, speed is important. Given the unpredictability of rains, we must act as quickly as possible to ensure minimum loss. Third, we must be able to enumerate the numbers of each species so that poached animals are not passed off as flood victims. This will also help us to understand if our strategies are producing the desired results. Fourth, though adapting to climate change is not the same as managing a disaster, lessons from disaster management must be considered, as they are the result of years of work during floods, tsunamis, droughts and fires.
A World Bank report titled ‘Cities and Flooding: A Guide to Integrated Urban Flood Risk Management for the 21st Century’ states, albeit in the urban context, that among all natural disasters, floods occur most frequently. Though we know enough about floods and droughts, we barely know about wildlife. That’s why it’s important to find out how climate change will affect different regions. For examples, is there a possibility of floods in the Himalayan region in the coming years due to climate change?
Finally — and most important — before executing any plan, we must consult scientists, both from within the government and outside, people living in or around protected areas, civil society groups and those who know about disaster management.
But to execute all these plans, we need financial investment and political will. It is believed that every dollar spent in early warning systems in urban floods saved hundreds of dollars later. But no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a species. Therefore, we must act fast.
Bharati Chaturvedi is director, Chintan, a non-profit organisation working on green issues in Delhi
The views expressed by the author are personal