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India still

October 6, 2009

So there was a cockup with our tickets and Addis will have to wait a couple of days – we’re back in Delhi. Leaving India always turns out to be surprisingly hard. Still, it gives us time to prepare for Ethiopia: visit the post office and bank, get some laundry done, readjust to the fewer numbers of guns pointed at our heads – that sort of thing. I realise that Kashmir is a war zone, but even so, the security procedures at Srinagar airport would have impressed the Guantanamo orchestrators. It was difficult, during the 3-hour interrogation of my person and belongings, not to shout out the bleeding obvious: Do I look like a Kashmiri separatist? But, such is the reality of travel in these explosive times.

Meanwhile, south of us in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which we visited during the drought-stricken irrigation season earlier this year, catastrophic floods have brought chaos.

What is playing out in these states now, is, I worry, just the sort of developing world dilemma that will become increasingly evident with climate change. The Indian government, acting on meteorological and hydrological warnings, reacted relatively quickly to the floods, initiating a mass evacuation of hundreds of villagers in order to prevent the large-scale life-loss of similar floods a few years back. In all, around 1 million people have been evacuate (this is a populous nation), and about 200 have died. The problem is, the government has neither the resources, nor the coordination, nor the basic infrastructure to deal with the humanitarian crisis. The response has been anger and frustration from the flood refugees, who lack food, water and basic sanitation. What’s worse, is that in some areas the floodwaters are receding, prompting many villagers to attempt to return to their homes.

What is the developing-world government to do in such a situation? Is it better to leave the evacuation decision and coping mechanism to local communities?

On a more positive note, Delhi appears to have had a clean-up. The streets seem far less filth-strewn and there are still some frangipani in bloom.

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