Saturday, January 14, 2012

Can We Prevent Mumbai's Unplanned Urban Development - II?

Picture from Greenpeace, India.
Part I discusses space being at a premium in our cities and why farmers, villagers, the rich and poor migrate to our cities. It concludes that migration to our cities is definitely unplanned.

Part II - One of the most obvious outcomes of unplanned migration to our cities has been garbage. This has reached monumental proportions.

The poor have no place to throw their garbage so it collects on our roads or clogs our waters. Come to think of it, our kachrawalis might take away our garbage from our flats but who knows where she takes it? In December 2010, when I was in Mumbai, I saw at least five huge MOUNTAINS of garbage in just one suburb, which were definitely not there the last time I was there. Our Municipality doesn’t clear it away. 

A Possible Action Plan: Perhaps we should all inundate them with phone calls or emails to come and clear it away from outside our homes. Perhaps we should get together, plan, organise and act unitedly to ensure it is done.Perhaps we should find out who's in charge of taking away our garbage and publish this person's contact details online.

Facts about garbage and its odours: Garbage in Mumbai includes spit, rubbish, urine and faeces. Everyone knows it is an eyesore, attracts rodents, roaches and other pests, is not good for our health and the environment and smells awful. Without being too conscious of it, we live with these smells in Mumbai. These smells badly affect our olfactory and other systems. As a result we have varied reactions like eye irritations and sore throats, coughs, drowsiness, asthma and even depression.

At the same time, most of us have learnt to stoically ignore and not complain about our symptoms of discomfort. 

Odours disturb concentration and diminish productivity as our disgust with our environment remains uppermost in our minds. Work force populations vary in levels of discomfort from odours because of exposure history and habituation. But whether we may, or may not realize the possible risks of consistent bad odours, they affect human health and well being. Productivity in such an environment goes down considerably. Our ability to perform tasks may decrease as our dislike for particular odours increases.

Garbage dumps shouldn’t be on our doorsteps to start with, but in designated places far away from where most of us reside. The municipality should take away our garbage regularly to these designated dumps. But it doesn’t happen. The garbage piles get higher and more densely compacted with their own weight causing all the above symptoms in our health.  Methane - a greenhouse gas that captures heat and causes global warming is one of the end products of these dense piles of garbage. This might be an appropriate place to mention how, with the advance of science, this methane from garbage is being used to make new energy. A very worthwhile investment once it is made. Hopefully, we'll see the last of garbage clogging our city streets yet. Whether the government and business get together to exploit the benefits of garbage to create new energy or not, garbage from our city streets has to go or we have to keep paying megabucks to doctors for our health.

Garbage is only one aspect of the unplanned migration to cities. Some more resources that get affected due to overcrowding of cities are
  • water (increased usage, increased pollution and a threat to marine life)
  • air – with so many more people sharing the air we breathe, with so many more households cooking, with so many more cars and trucks on our roads, the air we breathe gets polluted. There’s an increase in greenhouse gases that trap heat and make our cities hotter than ever before; there’s an increase in the emission of deadly dangerous gases like carbon monoxide (as explained above), carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide as also smog and acid rain (which I’ve written about here) This, in turn, pollutes the soil in which we grow our food.
 A Possible Action Plan: Walking, cycling and public transport whenever possible; shared rides to work; buying local goods that haven't used up too much oil to get to our shops; making informed decisions (for example - buying goods that aren't wrapped in too much plastic), reduce-reuse-recycle; composting our garbage...

Other Aspects Of Overcrowding Our Cities: There is an increase in noise levels; in energy consumption; various social problems due to shortage of space and other resources; perhaps crime because of the disparity in living standards and hunger as also, increased use of raw material and manufactured goods

As our cities spread, there's a loss of land that ought to be conserved - like wetlands, grasslands, forests – a natural habitat for so many different species. In fact, here’s something we need to be aware of right now.

"Green Dream Foundation" - an NGO started in India by two young Delhi men (Ashish Sachdeva and Abhishek Agarwal), consistently provides a lot of information on factors that affect our Earth. Green Dream's latest venture in association with Greenpeace, India who created "Why this Koyla Mining Di" informs us that corporates are cutting down our forests to mine coal. Here’s Devinder Sharma linking policies that take away community control over natural resources like water, forests and farmlands to hunger and migration to cities by our farmers and villages.

A Possible Action Plan: Want to get involved? Join Green Dream; Become a “citizen” of Junglistan to protect our natural resources from corporate interests. Watch this video by Abhay Deol who interviews farmers who’ve become landless and jobless.        

If there is one thing IAC - India Against Corruption taught us last year, it was that we've ignored "government by the people" and that the government has ignored, "government for the people". Getting together with other like minded people and speaking with one voice is one effective way to get our point across to the government. After all, whose voice is more effective? 

A billion lone voices or a billion strong force?



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