By Barnes Mawrie
We probably haven’t thought enough about the irony of development. It is true that every and every country desires development for its well-being. Who doesn’t want a better house, better food, better electricity and water supplies, better clothing, better education, etc.? What government or country would not want to create a stronger economy, a better health system, a stronger defense system, a wider transport network, a more effective communication system or more industrialization, etc.? Development is what every government works for and what every community and family is looking for.
However, what is practiced today in almost every country in the world is unsustainable development, which means one-sided development or a win-lose development formula. Because of this evolutionary formula, humanity today runs the risk of becoming extinct.
We cannot deny that the ecological problems we are experiencing today are the result of this tragic formula of development. Climate change, for example, was triggered by excessive CO2 emissions into the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels from factories, thermal plants, thousands of airlines and billions of automobiles. It is true that production has increased and we are able to enjoy all kinds of products in the market. We can have any make of car. We can communicate faster and more easily via mobile phones and travel around the world by trains or flights. Little do we realize that all of these benefits and conveniences come at a high cost. The tragedy of the Chernobyl accident in 1986, which killed 28 people, caused thyroid cancer around 5,000 and 350,000 people were evacuated, is still fresh in our minds. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, in which 154,000 people had to be evacuated outside a 20 km radius, is another grim reminder of the high price we have to pay for our development mania. The most recent dam breach in Uttarakhand in February 2021, which killed 150 people, washed down villages and destroyed farmland, is another example of how development can become a curse on society.
As we get closer to Meghalaya, we know how unscientific coal mining in the Jaiñtia Hills, from which some wealthy families have benefited, has led the masses to environmental disasters – rivers are polluted and poisoned and fish are dying out; Water is no longer suitable for use, the carbonaceous water from the mines poisons the rice fields and makes cultivation no longer possible. Underground mining caves are like the sword of Damocles for the inhabitants of the region. If mining continues in this way, the Jaiñtia Hills in Meghalaya will become an ecological disaster. Also, the air is constantly being poisoned by the carbon released from huge coal reserves everywhere, putting people at risk of getting sick. The myriad cement factories in Lumshnong are an asset to these large corporations, while the thousands of poor residents will gradually become ill with pollution-related diseases.
The way we understand today’s development is really a “penny wise pound fool” philosophy. Some may make a few hundred crowns in cash, but in the long run they will destroy the very ground on which they stand. The profit they make is short-lived and unreliable, while the damage caused is irreversible and fatal. Think of the coal mines in the Jaiñtia Hills and other parts of Meghalaya. How long will they last? Maybe three or four generations, but what about the later generations? What will their posterity live on when the coal runs out? By then the place would have become sterile, fields would have become uncultivable, rivers without fish, scarce drinking water and heavily contaminated air.
When we look at our own city of Shillong, we lament the disappearance of the once beautiful rivers that we had – Wah Umkhrah, Umshyrpi, Umkaliar, etc. Development has killed all of our rivers and today they are just narrow drains that clear the city’s dirt carry. In the name of development, we have lost the vast expanse of fertile fields of yesteryear that stretch from the Polo to the slope of Mawpat village. Today this particular place has turned into a residential area with buildings popping up all over the place. The permanent adverse effects would be the disappearance of crops and the threat to groundwater deposits. In the next ten years we will be confronted with the crisis of drinking water scarcity.
The rise in temperature we are witnessing today is a direct result of air pollution from CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. When we look at all of these irreversible negative effects of so-called “development” we find that we are indeed in a process of “self-destruction”. Development as we see it today is a pseudo-terminology used by greedy and ambitious individuals, businesses, and governments. True development will come when man has achieved symbiosis with Mother Nature and learned to respect and love her. True development will come when we have overcome our greed and ambition and tried to live with what is essential.
Today the world faces the challenge between development and survival. Many countries in the west have abandoned thermal power plants and nuclear power plants because they recognize that they pose a threat to their very survival. Can we do the same in India or Meghalaya? As the saying goes, “Why is the sunset more colorful than the sunrise? It is an irony of life to say, “Sometimes good things happen when you say goodbye.” Perhaps we will ensure our own survival once we have learned to say goodbye to so-called development.