When it rains, it pours. This saying in English usually means that when something good or bad happens, it usually occurs more than once and often within a short period of time. In the case of Goa, it just means what it says: heavy rains that are tough to cope with.
This monsoon season, we’ve seen at least two terrible, intensely wet spells. Public memory is short. In a few days time, all this will be history and will get filed away in some remote corner of our memory. Yet, the fact that Goa too has had to cope with severe weather is something we can ignore (or forget) at our own peril.
Besides the downpours or deluges, we can’t ignore the fact that we have also seen strange, summer-like spells in the midst of the monsoons. Any layman would know that such extreme weather helps nobody. The intense wet spells disrupt life; not just in the towns (masquerading as cities) of Goa, but also in its suburban areas and even in our villages. The summer-like spells hurt the crops, affect Goa’s already depressed agriculture even further, and generally disrupt the cycle of or seasons. How it affects health is for our doctors to say.
Last Thursday-Friday night, it rained like crazy, as if the heavens had ruptured. Many have shared their experiences via cyberspace. On Friday morning and by afternoon, the net was flooded with so many photos and videos reporting on the flooding and water-logging that had just happened. These graphic images came in from Bambolim, Fatorda, Bicholim, Panjim, Miramar and other areas. Someone even got into a paddle boat and was caught on video moving down the road. At least now mobile phones can record and share details of the seriousness of the actual situation.
Citizens began asking angry questions about what was happening to the open spaces and wetland drainage sinks that Goa was once famed for. ‘Development’ and infrastructure is fine, but should this come at the price of causing flooding whenever the rainfall gets extra heavy?
For a change, Goa was reminded of what we are losing out on. We can blame global warming (expat Goans have been complaining about how London was boiling and Calgary was 31deg Centigrade). But this only means that Goa needs to take extra care to see that we can cope better with such situations.
Like most things in Goa these days, this issue also quickly showed signs of turning into a BJP-versus-Congress tug of war. We can blame whoever we like, but this is not an issue connected with party politics. Let us accept that whoever is in power, the pressures will remain as intense on politicians to convert green land, to dump mud and buildings in our fields, and to not worry about such issues till only when they hit us very intensely.
It would make a huge difference if officialdom was to wake up to the situation and realise its impact. We don’t need to see pictures on Facebook groups to realise how bad, and how widespread, the situation can get.
In the past, when villagers raised complaints about the killing of village wetlands, some officials seem to have realised the importance of the same. But follow-up action has been slow and far between. Even panchayats seem immune to needing to reply to RTI queries as per the law, while electricity and water supply officials seem quite content in supplying power and water connections to homes built in the midst of the fields.
In Bicholim, locals were giving credit to the authorities for deepening the rivers, which cleared off the heavy water flow. Since the Goa-to-Mangalore belt along the west coast gets the highest rainfall in the region, it is important to appreciate how serious these issues are for us. Few other parts of the country face such issues; for the others it might be more a question of drought. Of course, the recent incidents of flooding — caused by heavy rains –even in megapolises like Mumbai have only underlined this issue.
For a change, this time the Met Office at Altinho seems to have done a good job in cautioning about the heavy rains in the first week of July 2018 in Goa. But questions still remain: did enough people get to hear of this warning? Did the citizenry take it seriously enough?
Not long back, over the past month or so, the Goa Met Office installed long-delayed Doppler radars. This, it was said, would enable it to predict the weather better.
But it is not only a question of predicting the weather. Time has come when the formal language of weather forecasts needs to be translated into the simple language that the average citizen can understand. Maybe the official radio channel could also consider more frequent weather updates at this time of the year.
We live in strange times. Weather makes the news. It dominates our front pages. We can no longer pretend this issue doesn’t exist. In nearby Mumbai, the attempts to ban many forms of plastics are being closely watched. Mumbai’s government has watered down its earlier rules and is facing lobbying and pressures. But when the ubiquitous plastic blocks our drains and contributes to further drowning a city, all these are serious issues that need long-term attention.