Losing ground: Whither have all the grounds withered? - November
Give me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet: WilliamHazlitt (Table Talk, vol.2,'On Going a Journey’) Whither have all the Groundswithered? It seems the children of my city have finally lost the battle to their parents, over ground! In bygone era the city of Lucknow had earned the sobriquet of "the garden city” or the city in a garden. The City of Nawabs boasted of many gardens that find mention in the literature of the time, but were gradually lost to development. But in recent times, it seems the sobriquet of the garden city has been taken rather too seriously by the People of Lucknow, especially in the aftermath of the culling of trees, their sacrifice to clear ground for pet projects of Treeless Parks of Stone, which were then razed to be raised again-resurrected in more magnificent form than the before...and the process went on!
This seemed to galvanize the residents too and each locality went on a spree of local park development program---seizing playgrounds and zealously clothing them in verdant livery. Each playground metamorphosed into well-manicured garden, aesthetically laid down flowerbeds and a serpentine jogging track of interlocking tiles for the health conscious! But this generation of the joggers was doubly blessed- a generation that grew up playing on these playgrounds, which it had now wrestled away from the current younger generation and banned them from playing in these zones lest they spoil the newly laid gardens!
“Catch them Young” is what the wisdom says and yet the “wise “are guilty of Depriving the young generation the basic right of access to a playground”. Shrinking living spaces, and paucity of time had already pushed children into a chair in front of the TV and kept them there, where they further lost the battle of the remote (TV) to their parents. Now outdoors too they have lost ground to their parents and quite literally so!
Children have lost ground at school too. Though schools have mushroomed all over the city-- right from kindergarten to nursery, junior to senior secondary-- but are cramped into high-rise buildings sans the playground. The ‘field’ has been eaten up by the monster called urbanization- unplanned, unbridled and unhindered expansion of cities coupled with escalating, inhibiting prices of Real Estate. The boom here has boomeranged and spelled doom for the grounds and leaving the ground zero with zero ground!
“It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities and talents” said Eric Hoffer. A couple of decades ago, cities in India, including Lucknow, boasted of many ‘grounds’ that were accessible to young children and were used as ‘playgrounds’. One could see children playing cricket matches with the dedication of a professional or football just for fun, one could even catch a group of youngsters loitering about aimlessly just for fun! These grounds were where children took refuge from stress of studies for recreation and roamed for fun, unsupervised, masters of their mind, laughing, chatting, cracking jokes or even fighting and then making up- in short learning life skills! Summer sun was never too hot to sacrifice a game of Vish-Amrit or Den or other indigenously invented games nor were winters too cold to deter them from playing hide and seek or Antakshari or flying kites. Contests of cycling were a common sight. Many a singers, players, orators, teachers, creative writers and diplomats were carved and chiselled on this Terra Firma! “Nature is a tool to get children experience not just the wider world, but themselves” says Moss.
Return the ‘Play Ground’ to the children or increase the number of the hospitals! No, this is not a cynical pessimist’s view of future rather a realist’s warning for the writing on the wall is very clear. Let us pray that our children do not fall prey to diseases. Just five minutes of ‘Green exercise’ can produce rapid improvements in mental wellbeing and self-esteem, with the greatest benefits experienced by the young. The children do not have alternative open places to indulge themselves thus, which afford physical and mental health benefits of getting kids. Outdoor activities, especially unstructured, formless free play helps children develop a large number of skills- learning social skills, executive functions and behavioural skills as well through play. It boosts problem solving skills, self-discipline and enhances focus. Socially, it improves cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. Emotional benefits include reduced aggression and increased happiness. Running around and being active promotes good health and keeps obesity away. In neighbourhoods without a usable park or playground, the incidence of childhood obesity increases by 29 percent concludes Darell Hammond.
It relieves stress in children – It’s no surprise that children today are a stressed lot incapable to cope up with the pressures that life offers. Spending time outdoors increases focus in children relatively and helps increase attention span. According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, lots of kids are suffering from vitamin D deficiencies. This vitamin has several health benefits, including preventing kids from future bone problems, diabetes and even heart disease. Going out and playing in the sun boosts vitamin D. A study reported by Optometry and Vision Science found that children who spend time outside have better distance vision than those who primarily play indoors. In a nutshell, children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in out-of-doors-concludes an authoritative 2005 study by American Medical Association.
In this age of gadgets and social networking-facebook, cable TV etc, fewer children interact with nature. Heavy demands are made on their time after school and it is heavily pressured unlike ever before. They are expected to spend in profitable pursuits and in constructive activities like afterschool activities, coaching, organized sports or instructions in hobby courses-singing, dancing, painting or sketching. No time for kicking your heal outdoor, so to say. Unlike before, parents do not want their children getting dirty. Unlike before safety issues too have restricted children’s hours that they spent out-of –doors and how they spent them. The culprit is ‘Stranger danger’ the fear of abduction by an unknown adult, writes Jon Henley in the Guardian. Children are not allowed to ‘stray’ far from home.
Children are compelled to spend most of their time inside their homes-studying or watching television or working or playing on computer. Indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization have concluded that 80% of all cancers are attributed to environmental rather than genetic factors, including exposure to carcinogenic chemicals, many of which are found in household cleaning products. The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees, reporting that almost 3% of the global burden of disease is due to indoor air pollution. We spend as much as 90% of our lives indoors nowadays and researchers are investigating our exposure to indoor pollutants as contributing causes to rising incidence of autism, allergies and toxin load. In the short term, indoor air pollution can cause irritated or dry mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, respiratory tract and throat. It may also cause dizziness, fatigue, fever, forgetfulness, headaches, irritability, lethargy and nausea. Researchers have found that childhood diagnoses of allergies, autism, Asperger’s and Tourette’s syndrome are linked to indoor pollutants such as dust, phthalates, PVC flooring and second-hand smoke. The list is long and scary.
Though children know a lot about nature, but indirectly, through television and may visit nature resorts but do not experience it directly. They do not know the names of plants and trees, have no interest in the avian, which, as it is, are on the decline in the urban havens. I was surprised to find out that in a class of about eighty students in a BA freshman class only two students owned potted plants at home and had interest in gardening! The American writer Richard Louv defines the phenomenon as ‘nature deficit disorder”. The Playgrounds were a sure way to cure this. We have destroyed the connection between the children and nature. In the current scenario, where we are languishing with a bleak scenario on the Earth front, we need to restore this connection urgently and immediately so that our children fell connected with their habitat, feel it , experience it and most importantly understand it and value it. In India 14th November is celebrated as Children’s day. This year let us return to our children their ‘playgrounds”, havens of health to which they can return in hoards, reminding one of the sojourn of flocks of migratory birds that come to congenial grounds...!!!
‘Come September’ but not on a deluge of ailments - October 2016
In 1961 Hollywood unleashed a deluge of entertainment upon the people with a romantic comedy film titled ‘Come September’, starring Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida. Come September and Delhi, the Capital of India, is hit by a deluge- but of a different kind- a deluge of swelling population of Aedes aegypti- a small ,dark mosquito of approximately 4-7 millimetres with typical white markings on its legs and a marking of the form of a lyre on the thorax. Delhi screeched to a halt and so did many other states and cities. The news headlines screamed to announce that the industry was hit by a slowdown, and work on roads and bridges delayed by months. The reason: the population of the migrant workers shrunk by 20%. Why? They were stung by the miniature mosquito. While the country lamented the loss of its brave hearts in the battle on the border, there were many who battled the disease in the heart of the country anonymously. Those in the position of power passed the buck while others went head hunting- and the common man groaned in pain, waiting for action. Some blamed it on the complacency of administration, others on corruption, and a few others on the boom in the Realty sector-with indiscriminate construction work in progress, the mosquito found many aqua bodies to proliferate! As the disease spread its burning breath and the death toll hit north, the administration scampered to action. By then it was already too late, the disease claimed victims indiscriminately- from a few month old to the elderly - and in quick succession.
But September comes every year, and leaves behind a trail of woes that create havoc in the lives of ordinary, poor people that defies any quantification of loss incurred as in the industry above. It is that time of the year when viral fever, dengue and chikungunya stealthily lurk in the nooks and corners of schools, offices and homes, stalk people silently and then strike the unsuspecting. Though you and I may not have been visited by it ask Rani, a domestic help, who works part time at 5-6 houses to eke out a living. She has been trying to save money for her youngest daughter to buy crackers on Diwali, new cycle for her eldest daughter, and a question banks for her son preparing for boards. She started to save money after Holi, come September and all the family members, already underfed and malnourished, became easy prey to these ailments. Numerous visits to the doctor, who of course would be an unqualified one, and lack of strength to do work further complicated the problems and they even found themselves out of work!
This has cascading effect. Most of the families in the city where women go out to work rely heavily on these domestic help .With them out of action, I am sure, a lot of working women too would have to take leave from their work to attend to their duties at home.
To further assess the damage, one only needs to attend a PTM in any school. A lot of children suffer academic loss for not being able to attend school and many have to forego the crucial midterm exams. Children, forced to keep away from school are the worst suffers- their future hangs in a balance- September is the time of assessment and evaluations in schools. Those appearing for the boards or others in the university suffer the risk of losing a year! Opportunities are lost and futures are blighted.
But all these are nothing when one realizes that these diseases pose a great threat to life- they may become fatal. The huge number of mortalities makes it imperative that stringent preventive measures must be taken and much in advance – at the onset of monsoon. The municipal corporations should ensure timely and proper collection and disposal of garbage. Proper drainage is another area that needs attention. Roads should be maintained and all potholes filled. Water should not be allowed to stagnate and fogging should be done as prevention and not just as remedy. Children in school should be educated about these diseases and exhorted to check their homes and surroundings for any signs of water stagnation. Hospitals should be readied for speedy diagnosis and treatment of such cases. People themselves should act as pressure groups for the timely and proper delivery of these important services. If we join hands and prepare ourselves then perhaps we too will say with a welcoming smile ‘COME SEPTEMBER’!
Learn a lesson from drought & floods - September 2016
To explore strange new worlds; To seek out new life and new civilizations; To boldly go where no man has gone before” - this introductory text of Star ship enterprise on its five year mission into space in the popular science fiction Star Trek proved prophetic for man. Indeed after wreaking havoc on earth, plundering its wealth, depleting its resources, choking it with chimneys, and leaving it gasping, Man is compelled to look not only for New Frontiers but New Habitat too. Man is the author of his nemesis. He has invited the Nature's fury upon himself, for like the oceans, Nature too does not keep anything to itself. It returns the favour with great ruthlessness and in equal measure, if not more. We have been witness to this fury of Nature in the past couple of months.
“Floods and drought are often two sides of the same coin. In certain places, they damage soil, water systems and ecosystems in repeating cycles that exacerbate each other's impact.” This was evident when the dog days of summer arrived with the news of drought in Latur in Maharashtra, and we witnessed transportation of water to the parched land by the railways. But we didn't know that we were merely “one rain away from drought”. Two months later it was water that became the cause of woes. Rains washed away every memory of drought and the swollen 'Savitri' menacingly threatened to engulf the same land that it had rescued from the clutches of drought.
We did not learn from our experience! Barely had the previous year been out of its mourning the Tamil Nadu floods- which snatched away 347 lives and left us poorer by 3 billion dollars than the nation found itself inundated neck-deep-literally and figuratively- in water, flooded with the request for help from all corners of India when seven states reeled under the floods . A quick glance at the data below reveals the enormity and severity of the problem and the need to look for permanent solutions to the situation to be able to save the precious lives and property of the people.
On 1 July, 2016- Uttarakhand Floods- the Alaknanda river and a tributary, the Mandakini, have both overflowed killing at least 30 people.
12 July, 2016 - Over 120,000 affected by floods in Assam. The flood situation which began on 04 July, 2016, had by now affected over 123,000 people in 190 villages.
26 July, 2016 - Over 50,000 Affected by Floods in West Bengal Heavy rain in catchment areas, including in Sikkim and Bhutan, have increased river levels in West Bengal.
05 August-Maharashtra- Heavy rain caused the Savitri river to overflow in early August, causing a bridge which spans the river and forms parts of the Mumbai-Goa highway, situated in Mahad, Raigad district of Maharashtra collapsed.
8 August, 2016 Maharashtra-Further heavy rain in western India have caused flooding in several areas of the state of Maharashtra, including Mumbai and the city of Nashik, where at least 12 people died.
8 August, 2016 Bihar- Floods Force 650,000 from Their Homes, Death Toll Rises to 95.
11 August -Rajasthan Deadly Floods -Several days of heavy rain in the state of Rajasthan, India, between 6 and 10 August caused severe flooding in several cities and districts.
22 AUGUST, 2016 - states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are worst affected. Three days of continuous rain caused floods in Katni, Rewa, Chattarpur, Raisen, Sagar and Satna districts in Madhya Pradesh. The state of Sikkim has also been affected by flooding.
The situation continues. The flood situation in the north Indian state of Bihar has forced 641,707 people from their homes, which is about the equivalent of the population of Boston, US. Almost 300,000 people have been evacuated by the current flood situation. The recent floods in Uttar Pradesh have affected 870,000 people in 987 villages of 28 districts. Assam floods affected over 123,000 people in 190 villages.
We cannot wish away Climate Change. There is an urgent need to address the situation and to find long term or permanent solution to the problem of recurring Floods. There are various initiatives that are reported from various agencies in different parts of the world.
An initiative comes from the scientific community and is called “Raising Risk Awareness”. It involves a team of scientists who examine whether climate change has contributed to extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and heat waves in East Africa and South Asia, and disseminate findings to a variety of audiences such as journalists, policymakers and the public. The scientists from the World Weather Attribution, a new international effort, aim to increase the analyses and communication of the impacts of climate change and assess of how much extreme event is driven by climate change and other factors. The primary objective of the initiative is to “engage with interested stakeholders in pilot countries to ensure that if an extreme event were to happen the networks are in place to conduct an analysis and that local scientists can work with climate attribution tools to build their local capacity”.
Another initiative comprises of a new Community-Based Flood Early Warning system which allows communities in Nepal and India to access almost real-time information about water levels upstream. The system is cheap (at US$1,000) and the technology simple. A solar-charged transmitter has a flood gauge set up on a river, and a receiver has a control unit installed in a household on the riverbank. As the water rises, the electronic sensors produce an alarm, which is communicated to the receiver through a wireless device. A caretaker observes the risk level and sends a flood-warning message via mobile phone. The message is relayed to the focal person living in flood-prone downstream villages, the project team and the district disaster management authorities, who further disseminate the information to the vulnerable communities further downstream.
Google India introduced flood alerts to the range of information that's available through Google Public Alerts in India. Using data provided by the Indian Central Water Commission (CWC), Google Public Alerts users can now find flood alerts with river level information for more than 170 areas in which the CWC has active observation stations. These alerts are available on Google web search, Google Now cards in the Google app, Google Maps, and on the Public Alerts homepage, both on computers and phones. Clicking on the alert will show you information with details about the hazard, including a map and expected timeline, as well as tips on how to stay safe
The most radical initiative that is being piloted in Uttar Pradesh comes from Hydro geologist Paul Pavelic where he worked with International Water Management Institute to design a new system that protects communities in flood prone areas before disaster strikes. The initiative called Underground Taming of Floods for Irrigation (UTFI) involves diverting excess floodwater from canals and recharging ground water via village ponds that are expanded to receive the excess water. Water is allowed to percolate through the ground filling up the local aquifers and raising the groundwater level in the process. The water can be pumped during dry season for irrigation. This has various benefits – sustainability is the cornerstone of this project. The farmers up stream get better access to water for irrigation while downstream urban areas are saved from the loss of lives and property due to floods. As the losses are mitigated governments save money by way of less spending of flood relief and reconstruction work but the most lasting and valuable benefits are Ecological.
Perhaps timely interventions, better town planning and ecologically responsible citizens can still bring about a turnaround for our planet.