ON the eastern flank of India, off the Bay of Bengal, is a city that is sinking. Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is now called, has long been notorious for representing some of the world’s most egregious problems, scalding poverty of a depth few can imagine, overcrowding on a scale few have considered, with want and need and desire all mangled into a single dwelling place for millions of souls.
Of late, however, the city has tried to evade all these negative legacies of the past, and has attempted, like so many other cities in India, to rise some more, to transform Cinderella-like into a gleaming metropolis of achievement and promise. Ironically, it is now the foundations of just that growth that are being threatened, the latest of threats to lurk around Kolkata.
Recent development in the city has happened as growth often does at its margins, turning over what were once rice paddies and farmland to the service of massive high-rises.
Some of these grandly named enclaves, which regularly feature words such as ‘elite’ and ‘Beverley’ and ‘field’, house luxury homes for the city’s burgeoning middle class. Others house hive-like offices, where the employees working on this or that outsourced project, billing or logistics or something else, sit in conglomerations, their faces focusing on screens for hours and hours each day.
The job of creating high-rises from rice paddies has involved reclamation, the sucking out of groundwater that can render the earth less marshy and moist, and more conducive to heavy construction work. Here is ‘new’ land of the sort everyone can build on but that only the fortunate can purchase.
As the seas in the Bay of Bengal have risen, and research shows that they have done so at an inordinately fast rate, the groundwater that has been sucked out of the land to provide for the building of these luxury towers and office complexes is rising again. When the groundwater rises, the land can become soggy and waterlogged, which is not the sort of territory on which one wishes to lay the foundation of any building, let alone a high-rise.
Nor is this the sum of the cataclysm to come. The elimination of the rice paddies and the shrinking of the mangrove-laden coastal plain mean that the buffer zone between the sea and its storms and the city has shrunk also. The threat to the city lies not only underneath it, but in the winds and gales and cyclones that can blow their way into this home of many millions, potentially taking the lives of many thousands.
Karachi, which does not have a buffer zone between itself and the Arabian Sea, faces many of the same challenges. For a number of years now, development on the coast has centred on the reclamation of land where the elimination of groundwater is the magic recipe for the production of more real estate to be sold at high prices.
As in the Bay of Bengal, the waters of the Arabian Sea are also rising. As this water rises, the land reclaimed by the elimination of groundwater is likely to experience new seepage as the water table under the ground rises and the sea comes closer. There is no large-scale cyclone or catastrophic storm that has to happen to set the winds of this kind of change in motion. It is happening, every day, underneath the feet of unsuspecting Karachiites.
At the moment, those who live closest to the sea in Pakistan’s city by the sea are believed to be the luckiest, the most fortunate, the ones with enough lucre to pad a seaside existence. Even while many of these fortunate ones are educated, even highly educated, they exhibit a sort of wilful ignorance of the threat to which they are most vulnerable. This sort of denial is also not new to the human race. After all, the ruins of Pompeii are full of those who just kept doing what they were doing as the skies darkened, the ash fell and ultimately the eruption happened, engulfing all and destroying all.
One wonders, then, which of the inhabitants of the subcontinent’s sinking cities, Kolkata and Karachi and Mumbai and many more, will be the ones whose deaths will be the anathemas of the next age. ‘Why didn’t they know they were sinking? Why did they build such tall castles on such sinking earth?’Perhaps those future generations will also have the answers to this riddle.
来源：三泰虎 http://www.santaihu.com/45774.html 译者：Joyceliu
That's an alarming situation.
thanks to the commies, kolkata has been a sinkhole. and now it is actually happening.
Wonderful writing and wise thoughts from a delightful writer of the subcontinent,
Very pertinent thought. It's a classical clash between economic expediency of today and long term well being of tomorrow; between Politics and Science; between Certitude and Possibilities. Sadly, 'Tomorrow' doesn't have the vocabulary to confront 'Today' and have always lost out.
Rafia does it again, the magic with her words and insightful thinking. Drawing parallels with neighboring country shows the broad vision she possess.
I live near Clifton so going towards Sea view beach and surrounding is routine, and always think about burgeoning coastline. And specially all the reclamation activities around Zulfiqar Street, DHA club makes me wonder where the water is going, when sea shore is dumped with sand and stone! Because in the Malir Naadi channel flowing in the Arabian Sea water level is receding.
It is awful to read about the fate of Karachi and Kolkata due to abject disrespect of nature, but hopefully the Netherlands, where most of the country is located actually below the sea level, could offer some solutions even at this late stage.
Superb writeup by author...points raised which deserve serious thought and action
Actually, quite on the contrary Kolkata has been improving as a metropolis over the past 20 years while other Indian metro cities (with the exception of Delhi) have been slipping.
The above article posses a great challenge, do we take it seriously, or wait patiently for the inevitable to happen, and happen it will, the question is when, not if, when the sea rises the existing coastline will be submerged, no use building walls, dykes etc, better to realize, and build away from the sea or build high. D.H.A. and other building authorities which govern the sea front, should realize and confront existing building bye-laws and seek expert opinion on how to deal with this reality.
Everywhere mad vertical growth is taking place, London or patna
The deterioration of the wetlands on the coastal plane is a flood problem. The sea will encroach on the land. The sky scrappers, however, will not collapse or sink it they have been constructed on bedrock foundations below the ground water.
@Sandeepan Banerjee Excellent comment.
@Sandeepan Banerjee 说得真好。
Look at it like this, we will have three Venice like cities in the sub continent. Good for tourism.
Please include San Francisco to the list with sinking high rises.
Very nice and informational write up madam. That's why I love Dawn. I am from India but your newspaper keeps me interested in all a south Asian news
Well written Rafia. An insightful comparative.
When nature takes its toll, these cities have to sink anyway. Let the warning be clear for all, residents, aspiring to be residents and investors at large.
I thought we- americans- borrowed from the future ( our kids!) - l was wtong.
Seeing and writing beyond boundaries: excellent! We definitely need such writers, columnists, thinkers, scholars, businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats. Make a cartel of saner elements and the change for good will start coming sooner than ever.
In essence, the Earth is already overcrowded (7.5 billion now, to be 15 billion humans (?) in the next 50 years or so,) but mankind's greed spurred by its advanced technical expertise is taking it beyond rational limits. It is like a woman having too many children painstakingly beseeching her husband TO STOP making her have any more, but to no avail.. "Mata pukaar rahi hai tumhe haath jod kar." But is anyone listening at all? When catastrophe strikes, and it is imminent that it will, all we'll be able to do will be to sit and rue being blindsided when we could have paid heed to the numerous indicators that were the harbingers of the ensuing disasters, and taken steps to prevent them, which is now.
The Planet Earth is already overcrowded, be creative but not procreative.
@vp Do you have any knowledge of fluvial geology, soil mechanics, eustatic sea level, subaerial and subaqueous delta plane? What kind of expert are you to comment on whether a group of local political entities can influence a basinal to global geology? Apparently, ignorance is universal.
Good that will clean Karachi
You forgot Chennai or Madras as it used to be called has already facing the problem mentioned by you. Every year monsoon or cyclone in Bay of Bengal make the city with flitting houses and boat rides in the streets. As you said all becsuse of collusion between politicians, bureaucrats and real estate builders and the nexus.
The responsibility for this rests with TMC, presently ruling West Bengal. There is not even one big industry or a good IT company having office in the state. Unless the policies change, it will go down further.
What is the rate at which the level of water along Karachi's coast line is rising, this would be of paramount importance to the city and the country at large.
Hello Rafia, i am from Kolkata and is amazed to hear that kolkata is sinking. I feel that may be you are never been to kolkata and have done some research from internet only. Just tell me a place or locality which has submerged in bay of bengal recently. Yes, global warming is happening and its a global phenomenon all the costal cities are endangered which include NY, Rio, Miami also. There may be poverty and overcrowding in kolkata but life is going as usual here and most of people enjoy living in "City of Joy". I would like to invite you here and show you around and i bet you will not feel threatened by waters of bay of bengal.
While the rising sea will destroy coast bound cities, deplorable planning will sink the rest. Look around, and each city suffers from chronic problems - dirt, sanitation, traffic and above all water.
The British left many things for the subcontinent, but alas, town planning (or any form of long term planning) got lost on us.
Amir Dewani- U.S.A.
The righter here has so intelligently picked up for discussion this subject relating to 'Rising Sea-levels', with special reference to the two main coastal cities viz Calcutta and Karachi in this part of S.Asia. Higher sea levels resulting from melting 'sea- ice' and expansion of seawater due to the climate change. The need to be vigilant about the risk involved in arctic melting, dramatic change in climate, coastal flooding resulting from global warming, or thermal expansion was never so great as it is today. This must compel our 'sleeping barons' to wake up to do the right things about 'Disaster management'! Note: Time and tides wait for none. Congratulations to you Madam for this thought provoking article!