“Please join us this weekend for a cleanup of the Adyar river. Assembly point: X. Time: Y am”
As recently as two days prior, I got this message. Despite many weeks having passed since, the effects of the colossal floods that hit TamilNadu are still being felt, with many areas still lying under water or the mountains of filth the waters threw up. Yes, the same garbage we mindlessly chucked around, now found its way back to the people! Go, Nature!
Weeks after the devastating TN floods, yet another part of the world suffered from similar events. Cumbria, in the north of England, home to the picturesque Lake District, woke up to knee deep water the day after Christmas. Things just got worse from there, with many people chased out of their homes at one of the coldest times of the year.
How did the two countries deal with their very similar disasters and what lessons can we learn from this, going forward?
1. The Home Team, Chennai
Cause: Despite the fact that a month of deluge really soaked the ground up completely, it was the release of the water from the local reservoir at supersonic speeds that upset the applecart.
Effect: Widespread floods along the banks of the river Adyar, many people losing their belongings and homes and more woe than you can bear. Grim was the outlook.
The immediate aftermath: Chaos. The city and the state were totally unprepared for this level of destruction and the Common Man swinging into action mode was what saved the day. Regular people prepared food by the tons, packed and took it to the starving masses. Local adventure sports schools took to rescue by putting their boats and kayaks to use.
And after? Once the army and the special forces entered the game, things started speeding up. Helicopters dropped food rations off for people waiting for them at the top of their buildings and rescued pregnant ladies from precarious situations.
2. The Away Team, England
Cause: The cause was rain and more rain. Typical for England, “more than a month’s worth of rain fell in a day”, across the part of the country that already receives a great deal of rain. A great deal of water + too little time = a massive flood.
Effect: People woke surprised to see water inside their previously warm houses. Widespread flooding, with more flood warnings put into place.
Immediate aftermath: The affected were moved to the local community halls whilst the local councils went about inspecting the flood defence systems and inspecting damage.
In both cases, “record” amounts of rainfall fell on the areas, setting up the situation for a crisis event. What differed massively was the difference in the approach to combat it. In both countries, the officials swung into gear straightaway, assessing damage along the line and inspecting the affected areas. But the major difference was the bulk of the citizens that swung into action in Tamil Nadu, trying to help their fellowmen. They, the volunteers, became an army, collecting money, basic essentials, clothes and even arranging for vital textbooks and reached it to the needy. Shockingly, there were many reported cases of politicians subverting their efforts and trying to put their stamp on it but the volunteers just stepped up their efforts.
In England, the elected officials and the council workers, whose job it was to do these things, arrived with the big machinery, cleaned up and supplied aid, till the affected could move on.
That, my readers, is the difference between the developing word and a developed one. And that is why, the locals are still relentlessly cleaning up the river banks and beaches, clearing up the garbage so life can return to normal, for man and animal. Or, in many cases, better than it was before.