“We woke up when people were screaming for help,” Yadav, 26, said that night in July 2019. “The water rose to our heads … and I saw people with my own eyes who were carried away by the water.”
All his life, the wall protected Yadava and his neighbors from the worsening monsoon storms. His house has never been damaged – but since the wall is now absent, he had to rebuild his home four times in three years.
Every year in India, thousands of people die from floods and landslides during the monsoon season, which floods the country from June to September.
India’s poor like Yadav are among the most vulnerable.
“The irony is that the poor around the world are actually victims of climate change,” although they are not the ones who “created the problem,” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Center for Science and the Environment and a veteran. Indian environmentalist.
This weekend, world leaders gather in Glasgow for the COP26 climate talks as they want to reduce carbon emissions and avoid a catastrophic rise in global temperatures.
But for millions of Indians, commitments are on paper they will not save their homes. The climate crisis is just around the corner – and it is breaking down the framework.
Four homes lost in three years
“My house is about 10 by 15 feet in size and the floor is made of dirt,” Yadav said. “We nailed wooden poles in this ground. We tie them together and cover them with plastic wrap. If there is a cyclone or a strong wind, it will be completely uprooted.”
Family members began keeping their rare valuables in plastic bags so they could evacuate quickly. But there is so much you can protect.
Yadav said at the time that the people were fed up with the authorities and the constant cycle of destruction, evacuation and reconstruction. “How can we live like this?” he said.
“It was around 1:30 (in the morning) and the debris started running downhill,” Yadav said. “It was raining heavily and we heard it moving.”
Residents were evacuated again to the school, where they are still today with little clean water or electricity and no toilets.
“We have no idea when we will return or get another home,” Yadav said.
“The authorities are just saying we will get housing in three to four days, but nothing is being done. People have lost their jobs and have no money for food. The system is to blame here.”
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the governing body of Mumbai, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Places are becoming uninhabitable
Muralee Thummarukudy, acting head of the global support branch of the UN Environment Program for Disaster and Conflict Resilience, said slum residents tend to live in weak structures on the outskirts of cities where land is less stable and more exposed to natural disasters. They also often do not have any insurance to allow them to renovate or relocate.
These residents are also more vulnerable to the secondary effects of floods, including the spread of water-borne diseases, groundwater pollution and the loss of food supplies.
Rajan Samuel, general manager in India for Habitat for Humanity, says disasters destroy both survival and homes.
“The trend I’m noticing is that survival is disrupted with every disaster, and then there’s shelter,” he said. “We both need to mitigate.”
And while the government is now training cities across India to become “climate smart,” experts say many other measures need to be taken – such as improving evacuation processes and redesigning water systems and other urban infrastructure.
Narain, from the Center for Science and the Environment, said existing the systems were built “at a time when accidents were once again every 10 years, once every five years. Now there are 10 accidents a year.”
Recently Floods, droughts and other devastating climate events “all show us very clearly what the future will be like,” she added.
Many of these displaced Indians, such as the Yadav, have no means of relocation and other choices than to constantly renovate their homes in disaster-prone locations.
Yadav and his family are reluctant to relocate from their piece of land in slums unless the government offers an alternative.
He and his mother now make a living from meager savings, money borrowed from relatives, and the money he earns by pledging their jewelry.
He is currently losing hope and is afraid of the thought that he should rebuild it – again.
“It’s been going on for so long,” Yadav said. “You never know if water will flood a house and destroy a house.”