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When the Clouds Burst Open

For every Mumbaikar, the 26th of July, 2005 is a watershed day in history, a remembrance of the day when the city of millions virtually came to a standstill, crumbling before the relentless torrents the heavens poured down upon us. For a record 24 hours, the clouds burst open on the city, lulling it into an uneasy sleep. And yet, even after 5,000 deaths and 9 years, the lessons remain unlearnt.
When nature can be as ferocious as she is beautiful
Much of the blame for the crippling floods which afflicted our city that day has fallen upon our antiquated drainage system (which hasn't been revamped for nigh on 60 years now). We also have some rampant deforestation and illegal construction to blame. Besides of course the fact that the heaven were pouring like there was no tomorrow and the sea was raging at high levels.

What we saw in Mumbai that day was a sum of all the possible things that could happen, occurring at the same time. Nature openly conspired against the city. Whatsoever may be the cause, in the deluge that followed, one glaring truth stood out crystal clear - we were caught unprepared and unaware.

The entire urban community has in fact sustained itself by encroaching upon nature and is thus, susceptible to its ravages. A majority of our cities lie on the coast or on river beds, vulnerable to high tides and spates. large swathes of our land are covered by mountains and hills, are prone to landslides. Yet, the sorry state of disaster management in India raised its ugly head yet again in Uttarakhand last year, where we didn't even have a contingency plan ready. 365 days later, rehabilitation is creeping ahead at a painfully slow pace.

Let's take the case of China or even Japan. Both these countries are highly prone to earthquakes, but have taken great pains to insulate themselves from natural disasters. Two years ago, the USA, had gone into high alert in readiness for the 'superstorm' Hurricane Sandy. Extensive preparations were made by the Government. The end result -  It came, it went and it was promptly forgotten. There was minimal damage to life and property. But in India natural disaster likes 26/7 become a integral part of public memory.

Most countries have perfected the art of not letting nature's dangerous avatar to come in their way. In India, however, we have to live upon her whims and fancies, entrust our very lives in her hands. It is not as if we are incapable. Cyclone Phailin, one of the strongest tropical monsoons to have hit the country was successfully handled in Odisha, due to effective collaboration between the Central and State Governments.

It is shameful that we, coming from a predominantly agrarian economy have no idea of what to do in case of a drought. 67 years of independence, and we still depend on rains for our annual produce. This year we have witnessed minimal rains and our administration is already panicking. The entire country has become one big sitting duck, unable to endure nature's wrath.

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