natural disasters flood coronavirus locust heatwaves india
An aircraft is seen amidst a collapsed hangar at flooded Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport after the landfall of cyclone Amphan in Kolkata on May 21, 2020. The most powerful cyclone to hit Bangladesh and eastern India in more than 20 years tore down homes, carried cars down flooded streets and claimed the lives of more than a dozen people. Photo: AFP
Environmental Extremes

A Short Recap of an Apocalyptic Week in India

Coronavirus, cyclone, locust attack, floods, heatwaves and forest fires: It’s not looking good.
27 May 2020, 11:45am

2020 is cancelled. We’ve been saying it for a while now, but in India, the last week or so has proven that cancelling doesn’t quite cut it. Our collective imaginations of dystopia are stretching quite thin at this point. So we put together a short recap of where we’re at this week:

India is a Global Coronavirus Hotspot

Over the last three months, experts and analysts have been predicting and observing how the pandemic will take over India, which already suffers from a systematic failure of the public health system, overpopulation, apathy towards its poor and vulnerable, among others. Today, as India stands at 1,52,000 cases (at the time of writing this article), it seems like we have arrived. India is on top-10 hotspots in the world, despite three months of lockdown and amped-up surveillance. And there’s still no admission on the high chances of community transmission from the government and authorities. And then we wonder where we went wrong.

India and Bangladesh are Still Reeling from Last Week’s Cyclone Amphan

The severe cyclone Amphan hit the east Indian coast of West Bengal and Bangladesh last week on May 20, leaving a trail of destruction and loss worth $13.2 billion in its wake. More than 90 (and counting) lives have been lost in India, and in Bangladesh, as many as 5,00,000 families could now be homeless, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

But perhaps the scariest thought is how the cyclone impacted the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove cover, which has historically protected the shores of India and Bangladesh, and has been depleting over the last few years because of man-made occupations and climate crisis. Today, not only is its fragility

susceptible to such natural disasters

, but it may no longer be at the frontlines in case such disaster hits again. Case in point,

this projection of Sundarbans

, along with most of the coastal cities in Asia, no longer existing in 2050.

Indian Farmlands Are Being Devoured By the Worst Locust Attack in 27 Years

Earlier this week, ghastly visuals of millions of locusts covering up the skies and crops in around 10 Indian regions terrified us. And while locust attacks are not new to India, perhaps its timing along with other disasters makes it appear all the more overwhelming. What also doesn’t help is the latest Food and Agricultural Organization report that revealed that desert locusts are now breeding 400 times more than usual, thanks to the favourable climatic conditions. This could hugely affect our food supplies and make countries like India extremely vulnerable to plagues, leading to even more suffering, displacement and conflict.

The First Wave of Floods Has Hit the Northeast

We also saw floods hitting the northeastern state of Assam, in which almost 2 lakh people were impacted, and over 1,000 hectares of cropland destroyed under water. The flood, which is just in its first wave right now, affects Assam every year, with man-made and natural factors contributing to the disaster. Some years witness more destruction than others, and always adversely impact lives and livelihoods. This year, too, it’s done considerable damage in just its first phase.

Unfortunately, Assam also reported the highest single-day coronavirus spike so far this week, bringing the total number of positive cases in the state to almost 700.

Indian Summer Is at its Peak, And So Are the Dreaded Heatwaves

In India, the term “Indian summer” doesn’t quite have the romantic tinge that many an artist drew from for their art and literature. Here, summer literally spells year-after-year of intense heatwaves, which cause deaths and displacement of people. Now, though, the heatwave has added on to the suffering already caused by the pandemic and natural disasters. In fact, experts say that this year, Cyclone Amphan made the heatwaves worse, by taking away the moisture, which is otherwise built during the thunderstorm and rainfall, and triggering dry north-westerly winds to burn up Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh even more. The city of Churu in Rajasthan, in fact, is the hottest in the country, festering at 50 degrees.

Small Incidents of Forest Fires Reported in Uttarakhand

Much like most of the disasters (except the novel coronavirus) that have struck India, forest fires in the state of Uttarakhand are also not new. What’s new is how all these forces are coming down on us together, much like a reviled family gathering on a dreaded holiday. Over the weekend, visuals of forest fires devouring flora and fauna emerged all over social media and news reports.

But the state forest department

recently assuaged the national anger

over the incident and said they’re old photos and fake news on social media.

“There are no massive forest fires in Uttarakhand. Our forest officers are trying to douse the fire, but there has been no major incident recently,” said Parag Madhukar Dhakate, the chief conservator of forests in the state, clarifying that there are fires, yes, but are comparatively low-intensity because of the rains. That’s one inferno less, this week, we guess.

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