By Dripto Mukhopadhyay
In India, we have just experienced how devastating the natural calamity can be. I do not need to make it explicit for any Indian citizen since all of us are shocked, scared and deeply morose because of the flash floods caused by cloud bursts occurred in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. For my friends, who are not from India, a few days back sudden flash flood washed away huge areas in these two states of India. The loss and extent of devastation is not yet known since rescue and relief operations are still on. Apparently, in Uttarakhand only about 80000 tourists were stranded. Though the official sources could find out about 600 people as dead, but the number may reach many times than this since villages and towns were simply washed off by the flood water. No one knows how many are alive and how many are not. Perhaps this is one of the worst ever natural calamities in these hill districts which are also well known tourism destinations in India.
Who should take the onus of this loss of innumerous lives, properties? No one will. For some time media will draw attention of the common people, partly for their own promotion and partly to create voice across segments of population. But, everything will fade away after a few weeks or so. All of us will start discussing about new happenings, parliament elections, inflation, lower GDP growth, lower gold prices etc. This list can be endless. The people who have lost their close ones, houses, lands and livelihood will remember this forever, but will be too busy to look for alternate livelihood to survive. Some, who will remember and curse those unknown people responsible for this, will have too feeble voice to be heard of. But, unfortunately, this will not stop here. Just being realistic and rational, I expect this will happen several times in near future. I strongly pray at this moment that I should be proven 200 per cent wrong on this prediction.
The greed and lack of knowledge on part of the people at the helm of decision making in our country has simply doomed the future. Now at this point of time climate change in inevitable. No mitigation efforts can be successful in dramatically reducing GHG emissions. The damage has already been done and our planet, the only residence for humans known till date, will continue to get warmer and its climate will continue to change. It is of utmost importance now that adaptation and resilience strategies are evolved to tackle climate change. Since this blog focuses on sustainable tourism, I will keep myself restricted only to tourism aspects.
It is sad and unfortunate enough that almost none of the states do have a realistic and scientific policy towards adaptation and resilience in regard to climate change. Anyone who travels extensively across the length and breadth of the country, cannot find any evidence that the government departments are even aware of coming out with such strategies so that we do not surrender to natural calamities in a manner that has happened in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.
Developing adaptation and resilience strategies itself is a complex task. To adapt climate change in tourism successfully, we need to assess the vulnerability and resilience of the destinations. Though the pattern of climate change is yet to be understood completely, we need to forecast destination specific impacts of climate change to spell out explicitly the likely risks of each destination. It ensures informed decision making to develop an appropriate adaptation action plan that increases the destination’s resilience and resistance to climate change risks. It requires a concerted effort to create such leadership that enacts on such process. To make such processes successful, an environment needs to be created that encourages knowledge sharing and enables those involved to making well-informed sustainable decisions based on hard data. A participatory process involving all stakeholders including local residents is must. The reason being, unless a sense of ownership is created amongst all stakeholders in a transparent manner, desired results cannot just be obtained. Also, involving all stakeholders throughout the entire process ensures credibility of the process and support for the evolved adaptation strategies.
This is only possible if the government, both Central and State, takes proactive measures to foster such a process. It also requires involvement of skilled manpower since understanding and forecasting climate change and related risks as well as developing adaptation strategies requires technical as well as managerial skills. The country’s present scenario of a combination of power hungry politicians with equally corrupt and inert government mechanism at every tier is perhaps even unable to understand the gravity of the situation. Unless we make conscious efforts with immediate effects to address these, we are going to experience several similar or even more devastating calamities in coming years that have been faced by innocent residents and tourists of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh a few days back.