The rain has finally stopped falling in Bombay, India. One of the country’s most heavily populated cities endured a record worst monsoon season this year that saw almost a litre of rainfall within one day. The flooding and subsequent mudslides wrecked havoc upon all who live in the city. However, as is often the case, the poor were hardest hit.
Impermanent structures of tin and tar paper that dominate the landscapes of shanty towns throughout the developing world offer little shelter at times like these. Floodwaters swept through improvised street systems, uprooting the equivalent of several city blocks’ worth of population.
According to the Asia Times Online, the city of Mumbai’s (Bobmbay) misfortunes are more than just a freak of nature. Coastal cities around the whole of South Asia are a disaster waiting to happen. They cite antiquated storm drainage systems, population density, and the profusion of private vehicular traffic as the major culprits.
When the rains hit Mumbai this year, its drainage system was over a hundred years old, ill-equipped to properly handle the demands placed on it by the 15 million who live in the surrounding area, let alone the massive rains unleashed by this year’s monsoon. The sewers themselves are routinely choked with debris from construction sites and garbage, causing water to back up onto the streets.
With the cities continuing to be the last refuge of people trying to escape rural poverty, the shantytowns are overflowing. Garbage and other human refuse piles up and accumulates. Streets and avenues built hundreds of years ago were not meant to handle the number of people now flooding them, making it impossible to handle the quick removal of populations from afflicted areas.
Contributing to this congestion has been the proliferation of privately owned cars. Two years ago 380 new cars were being registered with the police on a daily basis. Little or no thought has been given on how to upgrade cities’ infrastructures to cope with this traffic increase. This of course has aggravated the potential for trapping thousand of people in a disaster area: either with no way out, or no access to aid.
Of course, everyone seems to be suffering from a surfeit of twenty-twenty hindsight. Business leaders and municipal officials alike have said they’ve seen this coming. But as usual, they have the ability to complain but not to act. Passing the buck seems to be as much official policy in India as elsewhere.
Requests for funding have been submitted to the central government to rebuild infrastructure. Business leaders, quick to point fingers, have done nothing to alleviate problems by utilizing technological advancements to decrease commuter traffic.
India has become one of the leading players in the technology service industry. There is no reason why people can’t do a majority of this work from their own houses. With computers, mobile phones and other high tech devices, banks of office phone workers could be a thing of the past.
The saving grace for Mumbai seems to have been her people. All accounts speak of how they have lived up to their reputation as a compassionate and selfless people. Major hotels opened their doors to those made homeless by the floods, particularly the street children. Multinational banks sheltered school kids unable to get home and kept parents informed of their whereabouts. People stayed up all through the night standing on street corners handing out food and bottled water to commuters struggling to get home; and others took complete strangers into their houses, especially the elderly, to keep them safe.
In a recent message I received from Indian author Ashok Banker, he described the people of Bombay and their reaction to any such calamity.
Here, In Bombay, when we have a power outage or floods, or any calamity, people will actually come out and help you, no matter what trouble you’re in, risking their own lives (and often dying while doing so, something that happens routinely and is reported in the press often). Not only are things like looting of stores or mugging unheard of at such times, even criminals turn into helpers and relief workers, working alongside police. It’s the most unique thing on earth and I wouldn’t exchange it for all the avenues of America and luxuries of the west.
How often do we in the West read about disasters of a similar nature? Floods, typhoons, earthquakes, or tidal waves cause havoc and destruction, killing thousand and uprooting thousands more. We are so quick to respond to cries for aid and succor, but is that what’s really needed?
We need to be working with people to lessen the impact of these events. Help with infrastructure problems by supplying equipment and technology should be a priority. Countries with overwhelming populations have fewer resources and are too often caught in crises management to be able to implement long-term projects.
We must encourage family planning and other forms of education for poorer people the world over. The millions of people fleeing the destitution of the countryside seeking the supposed wealth of the cities only increase the likelihood of these incidences being repeated over and over again.
These countries have been around for centuries longer then us, yet many of our supposed aid programs treat them like we would treat a child: “ If you’re good, you can have an ice cream and go to the movie.” That attitude is as offensive as the whole white man’s burden idea was a hundred years ago. We are quite happy to have them work in sweatshops making our designer clothes for us, but we don’t want to treat like them equals on the world stage.
Unless Europe and North America learn to respect the most populated areas in the world, what we are experiencing now with terror attacks will seem like nothing. The citizens of Mumbai and all of India deserve better treatment from us, in good times and bad.
After the rain and the flooding comes the disease; already, over a hundred people have died from drinking bad water. Thousands more crowd the hospital emergency rooms on a daily basis waiting for treatment. How many times does this cycle have to play out before we can all work together to ensure the well-being of all members of our species? What is it going to take for us to emulate the people of Bombay and stay up all night offering aid to those in need?