CHENNAI : Chennai is a city of rivers, lakes and the sea. Protection of our water bodies is one of our biggest challenges and climate change foretells that our biggest disasters are yet to happen. As much as we love the upcoming festival season, there is a tinge of nervousness and a bit of disappointment setting in me — how will we, the people of our city, manage all these celebrations without polluting our land, water and air in the coming months?
Ganesh Chaturthi just went by, and after the sweets and celebrations faded, it was time for the idols to be submerged into the sea. We all know just from the looks of it that this is trouble — bright-coloured Ganesha idols covered in toxic paints of plaster of Paris (POP) or cement and adorned with plastic garlands making their way on vehicles which pollute the atmosphere to our already strained coastline for ‘visarjan’ — clearly not the most environment-friendly festival.
The POP takes months to dissolve in water, altering oxygen levels and affecting marine life. Paints often have lead, which dissolve and are absorbed by fish — which are then again consumed by the people in the city. New diseases which didn’t exist come back to haunt the very folks who were out celebrating — it’s a vicious cycle that needs to end.
But let us focus for a minute on the real issue at the heart of all this — the health of our waterscape. We know from our flood experience that clogged and shrunken river mouths, blocked drainage paths and garbage coupled with torrential rain are bad news for the city. We are unprepared to handle this, but yet somehow we continue to pollute in the name of religion. In the aftermath of the floods, a lot was done to learn and adapt from international examples of flood management. The flood management plan considered major clean-ups of the banks, dredging and freeing up the river beds for better flow of water. Other innovative ideas were also discussed such as adding marine life, which could eat up vegetation and thereby enable free flow of water!
It is a fact that Chennai is sinking due to the over-extraction of ground water. We are currently at an average of +2M above mean sea level (MSL), which is a lot lesser than the average +6M (MSL) that I recall from my high school geography lessons. Unless our hydrology is balanced out, we have much bigger problems looming than floods during rains.
The Dutch engineers are famous for creating constructed engineered landscapes to protect and maintain their lands. Low-lying areas are enclosed by dikes forming artificial hydrological entities called polders. These polders maintain the boundaries between land and sea for a large extent of the Netherlands.As citizens of Chennai, it is our job to befriend our waterways — be it rivers, lakes or seas. Ensure we restore our hydrology, protect it and not pollute it.