Unusually heavy rains. Toxic smog. A poisoned river in the capital New Delhi. India’s rapid development has left it with many environmental challenges, in addition to erratic weather patterns due to climate change.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
As global representatives from around the world gather in Glasgow to try to tackle climate change, a crisis is playing out in real time in India. Erratic rains, deadly floods, toxic smog, poisonous rivers – all of these might sound like cautionary tales of what could happen if the world doesn’t respond quickly to climate change. But again, this is currently happening in India. The country’s rapid development has left it with a wide range of environmental challenges compounded by global warming. We have NPR correspondent in Mumbai, India, Lauren Frayer with us. Lawrence, hello.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: So – I mean, say more about all this totally extreme weather. What’s going on?
SPEAR: Well, right now huge swaths of Chennai, a major city of about 10 million people, are under water. The buses are overwhelmed. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. You know, it is normal for cities like Chennai to get monsoon rains at this time of the year. But what is not normal is the volume this time. And that’s just one of many environmental crises India is juggling this week. I mean, look at North India next.
MARTIN: So what’s going on up north?
SPEAR: So the Yamuna River in New Delhi today is covered in toxic foam. This is something that happens as India develops. Its rivers fill with industrial waste. In this case, it’s ammonia. Literally, poisonous moss bubbles up from the water. It is a river considered sacred to Hindus. People still bathe there. Many of them fall ill. They also get sick from breathing the air. The Taj Mahal, the country’s most famous landmark, is basically invisible today from afar because it’s shrouded in smog, and that comes from industrial and vehicular emissions, mostly from the burning of fossil fuels, which exacerbates climate change. .
MARTIN: Oh yeah. It’s a dark picture. It sounds, you know, almost apocalyptic.
FRAYER: It is. I spoke this morning with Sherry Frosh. She is a mom from the suburbs of Delhi who is part of a group called Warrior Moms. They fight for clean air.
SHERRY FROSH: We’re living in a dystopian nightmare, which, I mean, you know, we see these bad movies about how people live in these gray towns and people are suffocating and they can’t survive. And we are living that right now.
SPEAR: And she’s keeping her kids home today because of the air quality, which is four times the safe limit.
MARTIN: So Indians have to pay attention to what’s going on in Glasgow, Scotland, right? – with the World Climate Summit.
MARTIN: Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a big promise there, setting a date to reduce net Indian emissions to zero. I mean, what’s the reaction to that? Will that be enough?
FRAYER: So he’s committed to getting the ball rolling to do that by 2070. That’s 20 years after the United States, 10 years after China. And that’s later because Indian officials say they deserve time to grow. I mean, any sudden shift to renewables here would likely hurt economic growth, and that can literally cost lives in a poor country like India.
I also spoke this morning with Suruchi Bhadwal. She’s an Indian climate change expert. In fact, I got her on the phone at COP26 in Glasgow. And she said, you know, yes, India needs to develop, but it’s actually hitting a wall because of climate change. Take this week’s floods in Chennai, for example.
SURUCHI BHADWAL: On the one hand, we are talking about changes in rainfall patterns and high incidences of rainfall. On the other hand, it is also about development and mal-development, where we have choked off our drainage system. There is no place for the water to drain.
FRAYER: And she says most Indian cities are examples of that. Urbanization has actually exacerbated the effects of climate change here.
MARTIN: NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai. Lawrence, thank you.
FRAYER: You’re welcome.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUDD AND POLLARD’S “MAWSON’S WALK”)
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