VO: History indicates that the Buddha wandered
in these floodplains of India somewhere in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. He could have
passed this region before his final journey ended in Kushinagar, 30 miles away, where
he eventually died. A few millennia later, in a renewed world,
this is one of the largest cities in the mid-Gangetic plains of India- Gorakhpur.
It’s a city like any other- a magnet to the poor who have no means of livelihood in the
village. One third of Gorakhpur’s citizens are poor migrants.
Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, the city falls in the basins of Rohini and
Rapti river. Its bowl shape makes it naturally prone to
floods. People have suffered here for generations. But now things are getting worse. Shiraz Wajih (Soundbite)
Gorakhpur Environment Action Group The flood trends have changed a lot in the
last 25 years. July-August used to be the peak period. Now, despite the best preparedness,
flood timings have changed. They either come early or late. Last year, it peaked twice.
These uncertainties have increased in the last 25 years. And secondly, the duration
of water logging has also increased. So first you deal with floods, and then with water
logging. VO: Climate data over the last three decades
shows that Gorakhpur has been shifting towards a muggy climate, meaning there is more temperature
and moisture in the atmosphere. Climate projections indicate that this trend is likely to become
more intense in the future, resulting in more rains and more floods. Is the city prepared
for such a future? But wait. Before we delve into the future, it’s worth spending some
time on Gorakhpur’s present and not-so-old past.
In an earlier time, this was a city of lakes, some 103 of them. The floods seldom lasted
for long, as these water-bodies provided natural storage and drainage for rainwater. Today,
two-thirds of these lakes are dead. They have either been turned into sites for illegal
construction or dumping grounds for solid waste.
As there is no organized solid waste management system, waste is disposed off wherever possible:
along the roads, in the drains and in low-lying landfills.
Open drains carry sewage from homes, as most parts of the city are not covered by an underground
sewage system. This raw, untreated sewage is then pumped straight into already stifled
lakes of the city. The housing needs of a burgeoning population
are being met through rampant construction in the city’s green belt. A zone meant to
buffer people from natural disasters like floods is packed with concrete. The poor have even limited choices. They live
dangerously close to the river, in what used to be a rich belt of guava orchards. Next on the casualty list is agricultural
land on the fringes of the city. Small farmers with meager returns from farming are easily
duped into selling land to unscrupulous middlemen. Chakra Doyam on the outskirts of Gorakhpur
is a typical peri-urban settlement. It falls outside the municipal boundary; hence it gets
no civic amenities. There are a handful of farms around the area. They even look deceptively
green, irrigated as they are with sewage that is dumped in their ponds by nearby colonies. And then there is contaminated groundwater,
consumed through hand-pumps. Not surprising that quacks run brisk business
here, doling out dangerous potions to sick children. So the big question is: If every inch of Gorakhpur
is encroached, including its water bodies, its green belt and its peri-urban land, what
does it mean for the city? What happens when a regular monsoon comes
calling? Unable to find any drainage, trapped within the confines of the city, the rains
leave every nook and corner flooded and waterlogged. The real horror unfolds for the poor in days
and months after the monsoon has retreated. Welcome to Rasoolpur. This is one of the city’s
many slums. Shah Jehan lives on a marooned island of sorts.
A toxic island of rainwater, waste and sewage. For several months after the monsoon, this
is the only way to get out of the house. Shah Jehan (Soundbite)
Rasoolpur Children fall sick because of water logging.
They have to be absent from school. It’s difficult to get out and buy things. Water gets inside
the house. Then we rush into a rented house during the monsoon, and return once the house
dries up. We feel so humiliated. VO: Sufiya Bano says she hasn’t celebrated
Eid for many years. The floods have ruined her house many times over. The courtyard where
the family soaked the winter sun is now perpetually a pool of muck. Sufiya Bano (Sounbite)
Rasoolpur You can’t work here…feel scared if there
is a wild creature at night. Or what if the wall collapses.
Last August, water filled inside the house. All ration, cereals got swept away. We went
to the Municipal Corporation. Nobody heard us out. They said who asked you to take a
house in this hole. We bought an electric motor for Rs. 12,000 to drain the water. But
when we got back into the house, nothing was left.
VO: Stagnant water laden with waste and human feces- it’s a lethal cocktail that seeps into
the earth and contaminates the groundwater. This is drinking water for the poor. Piped
water hasn’t reached them as yet. And then, there are poor sanitation practices.
Where does all this lead to? Beginning July, the pediatric ward of BRD medical college
in Gorakhpur faces a severe manpower crunch. Hapless parents scramble to get their children
treated for various water and vector-borne diseases.
But the more shocking tragedy unfolds in the pediatric encephalitis ward. A tragedy that
grabs the headlines every year, but never goes away. Children are the worst sufferers
because they lack immunity against natural infections the city’s environment subjects
them to. Dr Kushwaha (Soundbite)
BRD Medical College 3000 children are coming every year. Out of
those children, 500-600 die. Those 2,500 children who survive, 500 will be having disability.
Another 500 will be having soft disability. Their behaviour will be abnormal. They will
be abusive, aggressive and not mixing with other children. Such type of behavior is very
common in encephalitis. Dr. Kushwaha says he recruits 10-15 new doctors
every year for the encephalitis ward. And loses most of them in 2-3 months, because
they cant cope with the stress. Millions of rupees are being spent to combat this epidemic,
but is the nail being hit on its head? Dr. Kushwaha (Soundbite)
Unless the people have improvement in their living standards, things will not improve.
VO: These are the tales of today’s Gorakhpur. Science predicts that tomorrow’s Gorakhpur
may be worse off, due to an unfamiliar un-friendlier climate. But is anyone listening?
K. Ravindra Naik, the divisional commissioner, puts up a brave defense for the city administration.
But says he has limitations. K. Ravindra Naik (Soundbite)
Divisional Commissioner, Gorakhpur Until public representatives don’t participate,
nothing can be sustainable. Officers can only take short-term initiatives. If there is political
will, the quality of public cooperation improves. Only if political, elected leaders wish…When
we remove encroachments, re-encroachment happens with the same speed.
Dr. Surheeta Karim (Soundbite) Activist, Gorakhpur The politician has to be sensitive to these
issues. The person in power whom we have elected is not sensitive, I am sorry to say, our constitution
is such that every work gets done through the elected representatives. If your MP, MLA,
Mayor is not sensitized about these issues, then your city cannot progress. Live with
it or you leave it. VO: It’s easy to be cynical. But then, what
about the role of citizens themselves? And what about their responsibility towards the
affairs of the city? Sri Ram Brish Gaur (Soundbite)
Citizen, Gorakhpur We are narrow-minded. If we decide that Gorakhpur
is our city, we have to keep it clean, it will be clean. But our elected representatives
woo us by saying that if they win, they will renovate this pond. So we just vote and become
careless. VO: Shiraz Wajih is a leading environmentalist
from Gorakhpur. He represents a small minority of citizens whose voice against the city’s
environmental decay is finally being heard. Their first victory reflects in the city’s
most splendid landmark- Ramgarh Taal. Dr. Surheeta Karim (Soundbite)
We took out a big rally and went to the lake. We pulled out the water hyacinth ourselves.
The main problem around the lake was the big encroachment by the land mafia. Our aim was
to get rid of them. Shiraz Wajih (Soundbite)
The citizens took the initiative that their lake should be conserved, because it is their
property, their ownership. Ramgarh lake conservation forum was formed. It was a citizen’s group.
It started demanding from our elected representatives, the government and the ministers. The government
responded. And finally, the environment ministry approved a proposal that brought in Rs 124
crore of aid for the lake. VO: In 2008, an initiative by the Rockefeller
foundation called the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network brought together
10 cities in Asia, to demonstrate practical strategies for responding to climate change.
The objective was to help each city become resilient at the local level. Gorakhpur was one such city. It took a couple of years and a vigorous engagement
among local experts, climate scientists, the city government, and the citizens, particularly
the poor, before Gorakhpur got its very own climate change resilience strategy. Shiraz Wajih (Soundbite)
When we were working on the issue of climate vulnerability in Gorakhpur, we felt there
are two clear groups in the city. One is the affected group- the poor, the migrant people.
The other group comprises change-makers, change agents- doctors, lawyers, teachers, leaders
at the grassroots. Both these groups are very important if we talk about resilience. If
you leave out either of these groups, the story of resilience will not be complete.
VO: The task of involving the poor and vulnerable groups began in the bylanes of Mahewa, an
urban slum devoid of every basic amenity. Come monsoon, and the ward submerged. Change was triggered by the Gorakhpur Environment
Action Group, which involved every household in the ward in micro-planning, and built community
groups around health, waste and sanitation. And then the action started on ground zero.
Old practices were pushed out for new ones. Waste that was thrown on the streets got collected
from every doorstep. Drains were fixed through community participation. New tap connections
were put in place. Quite clearly, Mahewa was reborn in a new avatar. Vivekanand yadav (Soundbite)
In-charge of solid waste management, Mahewa Earlier we felt we are living in a very poor
area. It was a heap of waste. But now I can say with a lot of pride that my Mahewa ward
ranks at the top amongst all the 70 wards of the city.
VO: The resilience strategy changed the face of one ward in Gorakhpur. But the question
still remained on how to take this strategy beyond, and mainstream it in the city’s development
process. Dr. Divya Sharma (Soundbite)
TERI We felt that the success of the Gorakhpur
resilience strategy should not die out. We felt it was very important to see how the
recommendations of the strategy can be mainstreamed. How can they be integrated into the whole
process of urban development? TERI reviewed all regulations pertaining to urban development,
both at the city and state level. We evaluated how climate resilience can be built into the
current legislation, and also what kind of new laws are needed to climate-proof Gorakhpur
and other cities that are struggling with other problems. VO: Based on TERI’s recommendations, the city
government now has a clear roadmap to make Gorakhpur a climate-resilient city. Yes, the
challenges are enormous, but not impossible. There is reason to believe that if citizens
persist, governments respond. And together, they can rewrite the tales of Gorakhpur. Film Credits
This film has been made possible with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation