The two sides of corporate social responsibility in Munnar tea fields

By Aurora Hawcroft
Sciences Po Paris and University of Sydney Dual Degree: Bachelor of Economics (majors in economics and political economy)

Today we were welcomed to the tea plantations of Munnar. Beautiful crops of tea wrapped the mountainside where the small houses of 125 tea working families were nestled. We met Swati who was our Tamil-English translator for the afternoon.

She goes to a nearby private school in the area, supported by a subsidy for planter’s children. TATA provides the subsidy as the major plantation company in the Munnar region. TATA is India’s most lucrative conglomerate that runs TATA Global Beverages, the employer of Swati’s tea picking parents.

TATA Global Beverages have committed to be “the most admired natural beverage company in the world by making a big and lasting difference through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).” This means they are committed to putting in place programs that create positive social outcomes as well as profits. In their 2015 CSR Policy, TATA Global Beverages promised an annual spending of Rs.3.72 crores (approx. $685,000 AUD) on social responsibility programs in education, housing and healthcare.

Whilst this sounds promising, I wanted to know what CSR involves on the ground. What is TATA’s corporate responsibility to Munnar workers and their families? Is the company doing enough to help its workers and their families improve their lives? Or is it playing the hero by fixing problems that they initiallycreated?

Swati and the women gave their side of the story.

The 1 room, 1 kitchen houses of the tea pickers in Munnar.

Housing presents the most simple example of the two-sided nature of CSR. On one hand, TATA provides 1 room and 1 kitchen to each family. On the other hand, the threat of eviction can be used as a tool to discipline their labour.

The workers told us that recently TATA sacked employees for building extensions on their houses. In response, the state of Kerala handed TATA 50 crore (approx. $10 million AUD) to build extensions, but according to Swati the money went nowhere. This demonstrates the limiting regulations that the workers must endure under the threat of dismissal.

Swati’s education is also exemplary of this contradiction between TATA’s social services and precarious employment. She told us that 50% of the students at her school must be children of tea workers like her. Thanks to TATA she is able to be the a leader in school sports and to graduate high school, an educational level that only approximately 40% of Indian children achieve.

When I asked her what she thought of tea picking she replied that it was “boring” and that she dreams of going to the US to study journalism. However the women workers stressed that TATA’s responded “degradingly” to funding requests for their children’s university applications. They made excuses for not helping with applications, preferring the new adults to work in the fields like their parents. This restricts social mobility for children born into families like Swati’s.

Walking through a Munnar valley

The same goes for medical care. TATA willingly pledges 500 Rs. for a doctor visit. However this is not specialist treatment in the areas most needed. The workers reported of “chronic bone problems” that directly result from the bending and scaling that picking tea requires. The inadequate medical support to manage physical impacts of tea labour is akin to putting a band-aid on a broken leg. It fails to address the inherent issues of tea picking conditions that TATA is ultimately responsible for.

TATA’s CSR commitment is commendable without a doubt. But it’s difficult to applaud when the profits that fund it are most likely gathered from the exploitation of their workers.

The women in the community have mobilized to voice these concerns. As tea pickers are predominantly women, they are disproportionately affected by TATA’s actions.

When we left in the evening they asked us to join their cause. By sharing their side of the story of CSR in Munnar’s tea plantations, Swati was building hope for intergenerational change.

A desire for a greener Mumbai

By Lisa Li
Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Advanced Studies (Advanced)
Majors: Geography and Environmental Studies 

A strip of green separating between the informal and formal housing.

Every morning at TISS a tree will host a new spectacle. Would it be a ginger cat clawing its way up? Or would it be baby monkeys jumping from trees to the roof of the Guest House? Or maybe it will be monkeys chasing each other up the tree. However, stepping into the open streets of Mumbai, nature’s natural shady, cooling, oxygen-making arena of entertainment are stripped away from sight. The futility of finding a shady tree to escape the heat on the open streets are a cruel, hot and sweaty reminder that trees only covers 13% of Mumbai.

These streets are also filled with dreams and desires. From the painted slogans such as “Clean & Green India” and “Green City Clean City My Dream” that decorates the streets to the private developers photoshopping an utopian green Mumbai into their billboard and newspaper advertisements of new high-rise buildings, it is clear that the desire for a greener city has transcended from academic research to the residents of Mumbai.

“Clean & Green INDIA” juxtaposing the informal housing

But why do we need a greener Mumbai?

Other than the small clusters of trees or those lining the sides of trains and roads, Mumbai is a densely packed concrete jungle with 18.4 million people living within it. With heat generated by the activities of millions of people such as driving, the lack of ventilation from the densely packed homes means that excess heat is trapped in Mumbai. This is the urban heat island effect (UHI). UHI is such a pronounced issue in Mumbai that the atmospheric temperature in Mumbai during winter is 12 degrees Celsius warmer than in the city’s surroundings. In summer it is 5.5 degrees Celsius warmer. Consequently, a range of health and climatic issues have been exacerbated such as heat exhaustion, respiratory issues and increased air pollution. This is a worrisome issue for those who are most vulnerable to heat such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Unfortunately, UHI and its ramifications will be increasingly exacerbated as the ever more prevalent issues of climate change and ageing populations become entangled with the current issues of rapid urbanisation and increasing rural-urban migration.

UHI can be mitigated by fulfilling the dream of the Mumbai’s residents of a greener city. The simple increase of vegetation coverage would not only passively cool the city, but it can also reduce noise and air pollution. Creating a greener city is theoretically easy. Increase the number of native trees and add green features to buildings such as a green roof. However, with the lack of effective state policies, Mumbai’s vegetation coverage might not increase significantly. This has resulted in NGOs stepping in. Green Yatra is ambitiously striving to plant 100 million trees across India with 1 million already planted. Specifically in Mumbai, Green Yatra is planting small self-sustaining Miyawaki forests in the small pocket of lands across the city. With the continuous success of Green Yatra and the possibility of having effective state policies to increase Mumbai’s vegetation coverage, the dreams painted on walls and utopian cities illustrated in housing advertisements might become a luscious green reality.   

Maharashtra: A tale of two restaurants

Jacky Zheng

Maharashtra is a state of  dichotomies, as was clearly demonstrated to us by our experience of two notable meals we had just two few days apart.

Maharashtra’s capital and largest city is Mumbai, also the financial and entertainment capital of India and home of over 20 million people. However, outside of Mumbai, Maharashtra is a largely rural state dominated by small villages such as Mograj, home to 133 families and located 3 hours drive east from Mumbai.

Our visit of Mograj was highlighted by our purely vegetarian lunch within a communal dining area. This meal encapsulated the village’s humbleness and sense of community perfectly.  Sitting barefoot on the floor of the dining area, we were provided with a simple but delicious platter consisting of mango pickle, cabbage, rice, dal, papadum, and roti. Serving us were what appeared to be the chef and his/her (please clarify – I wasn’t there!) hospitable family and friends. One notable waiter was a six year old boy gleefully handing us plastic cups immediately after playing in the dirt with his friends.  

The day after our visit to Mograj, a few of us decided to have lunch at Samrat Restaurant, located in South Mumbai. This is the wealthiest urban precinct in India. While this restaurant also serves vegetarian food exclusively, that is where the similarities with our lunch the day before end. It didn’t take long for us to notice the intricately carved wooden décor along with the giant chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The waiters wore  elegant uniforms along with a name badge and an exceptional level of professionalism.  However, the most impressive aspect of Samrat was the overwhelming number of dishes served to us when ordering their signature thali. Dozens of ingredients comprised the extensive number of different breads, curries and drinks served to us. We were also provided utensils at Samrat which was not an option at Mograj, where the traditional practice of eating with bare hands is the norm. Additionally, the restaurant was facilitated by three spotlessly clean bathrooms cubicles, contrasting to the one visible public toilet within Mograj.

Lunch at Mograj communal dining hall (Left) and lunch at Samrat Restaurant in South Mumbai (right)

The two meals were both delicious, but were mainly memorable because  their contrasts allowed me to further engage with and understand key concepts introduced within the field school’s lectures and seminars.

The level of development within wealthy urban areas like South Mumbai and rural areas were reflected within all aspects of the meal. For example, in Mograj, geographic and economic barriers lead to meals being sourced primarily from local farms. In contrast, Samrat has the resources available to acquire produce originating from all across Maharashtra, leading to the greater abundance of ingredients within the meal.

Additionally, the patrons of Samrat were noticeably quite different from the residents of Mograj.  Some wore expensive designer clothes and flashy accessories, contrasting heavily with the more modest attire of the Mograj locals.

During my time at Maharashtra, I definitely think this was the most fascinating example of the diversity in livelihoods, culture, cuisine and people that this fascinating state offers. However, the fact that these experiences will never be forgotten by me is one key commonality shared between these two lunches.

Time to talk: Menstruation

By Meiya Folwell
Bachelor of Secondary Education/ Bachelor of Arts

We all know women around the world are confronted with gender norms that more often than not disadvantage them. Our week in Mumbai along with our studies at Tata Institute of Social Science has shown us that in India is no different, with deeply rooted cultural ideologies marginalising women.

Within the Indian society there are many embedded cultural beliefs that hinder women from full participation in economic and social life, which we has been seen with the lack of women in the streets and formal jobs in Mumbai. One of these cultural beliefs is the stigma around menstruation in public and in private. Talking about menstruation is a large taboo in India and is clouded in shame due to cultural beliefs.

Many of these are based on religious beliefs and include the view that women on their period are impure, and dirty and therefore cannot enter temples, the kitchen or be touched by anyone.

The inability to talk about these issues results in a lack of information being shared between generations and brings about a sense of shame and inadequacy in having these bodily functions as women. Menstruation is a topic so tightly wrapped up in taboo that these social practices are not talked about and have managed to live on into the 21st century.

A combination of a lack of education as well as a lack of toilet and sanitation facilities creates even more problems for women. Only 12% of India’s 335 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins with 88% of women resorting to alternatives such as unsanitised cloths and sometimes even newspapers, ashes and dried leaves to help with absorption. Women are therefore easily susceptible to infection.

Girls are also more likely to drop out of school once they start menstruating. This trend is particularly marked in rural India. A lack of awareness of pads in rural areas means they use cloths with inadequate access to toilets creating a lack of privacy. 23% of girls drop out of school after they start menstruating with these social practices making women feel inferior and shameful about their bodies.

Education is key to change in this and other aspects of women’s reproductive health, and life chances. Without formal education women will not be empowered and lack the tools and knowledge necessary to improve their quality of life and alleviate the poverty that they may face.

Menstruation is a normal bodily function that women are unable to control and if the cultural beliefs are not combatted, women will continue to be at a disadvantage in society. It is a sign of fertility and the ability to bring new life into the world and should be celebrated and openly discussed without fear and humiliation.

Stigmatising cultural beliefs about menstruation and the inability to talk about them within society uphold these gender inequalities and act as another barrier that women have to face.

A day in the rural farming village of Mograj

Alice Murnaghan

Exchange student form Trinity College Dublin, studying political science and geography

There was a bumpy start to the day as we rode our bus out of smoggy Mumbai and headed along the precarious roads East to the rural village of Mograj. Once we arrived we immediately checked out the seemingly newly built toilet facility next to the crop fields which was clean and functional. The farmer whose land we were on kindly welcomed us with sweet tea and biscuits (a common occurrence in India) and expressed to us that he felt overwhelmed that we had travelled so far to come to his small-scale farm. It seemed that many of us also felt overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and peacefulness of the area considering that it was only a short drive out of bustling Mumbai. He explained to us the importance of NGOs in the agricultural work that he and his village does – they provide training for farmers in organic farming practices so that they can train others (like he is now able to do), research ways in which crops can be processed to reach the market effectively, and help farmers even after their farm is running effectively to capitalise on the economic and social status of their villages.

A proud farmer

We were then taken on a walking tour through the crops that he was currently cultivating. It was here that we learnt about how the organic farming methods worked in practice and how they benefitted him over time. In his field he had a variety of crops growing at the same time (17 to be exact) – including okra, aubergine, dhal and peas. From what I observed I could see that he allowed some weeds to grow amongst his crops, which improve the stability and nutrients balance in the soil as well as providing increased biodiversity. Coupled with the fact that no artificial pesticides or fertilisers are used on the crops generates improved resilience to external shocks such as drought. We learnt that resilience to drought was particularly important for this region considering that it struggles with water scarcity after March, being surrounded by hills that have water storage facilities that they are yet able to access (but are researching ways to do so with the help of the NGOs). In addition, the organic farming method requires far less manual labour and he now only needs to employ three to four people as opposed to the 15 or more he used to employ on his traditional farm. The low energy exertion required means that the job is suited to a wide variety of people – young, old and of any gender. This could improve women’s access to suitable employment and also allows this farmer in particular to spend his extra time educating others and becoming involved in the leadership of his community.

From my previous study on organic farming, I knew that often it was the case that modern hybrid varieties often  produced higher yields in the short term, but also required higher costs and were highly dependent on specific weather and soil conditions (needing agrochemical inputs to bolster soil productivity). In contrast,  organic farming may produce higher yields in the long term because of its resilience to diverse weather and soil conditions.  I asked whether the implementation of organic techniques had helped increase the harvest, and the simple answer was “yes”, and also, it produced many other indirect economic and social benefits for the village as a whole with the aid of NGOs. These may include increased education and awareness of sustainable and effective agriculture techniques, leading to heightened food and water security which would benefit health and wellbeing and therefore living standards. Furthermore, these practices and the education surrounding them will help to offset the negative impacts of climate change on farming for generations to come.

We were treated to a delicious traditional lunch served on the floor of one of the communal buildings in the village and then sweated it off with a walk through the forest to another small-scale organic farmer. Once we’d had our fill of sweet tea we boarded the bus again to return to the city of Mumbai, which now felt like another world entirely.

Education and slums: visit to M-East Ward

By Rosemary Gatfield-Jeffries
Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Advanced Studies (History and Philosophy of Science/Political Economy)

18.41 million people call Mumbai their home. Eight million of these people live the M-East Ward, commonly understood to be the poorest area of the city. Most residents live in slum-style buildings and face a wide range of economic, social, and cultural challenges that hinder mobility and financial prosperity. The Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) runs several educational outreach programmes throughout the area, and today we were fortunate to see how they work, and meet some of the incredible people behind their conception and operation. It is one thing to learn about theories of inclusive development and sustainable urban planning in class, however having in-person understanding of the impact it has on the lives of participants was astounding.

Our first stop was the M-Power Library and Study Centre. This is planned, implemented, and run by TISS designed to provide a safe and quiet place for students to study and advance their learning in preparation for examinations. Students, who are residents of M-East Ward, use this space to study towards a wide range of professional qualifications including accounting, police work, and engineering. When we were shown around it was explained that usually students in slum areas cannot find unobstructed time and space to adequately study for these exams. The space, complete with classrooms, a library, and a communal courtyard, provides this simple necessity to encourage and assist students to aspire toward these professional careers.

Our second stop was a community-based education centre situated in the middle of M-East Ward. As we walked through the streets, we learnt quickly how fast-paced life was in the slum. Market stalls were selling fresh produce on the roadside, taxis and scooters were riding past with incredible speed, and children returning from school played cricket and hopscotch amongst the crowds. The community centre itself was a small brightly painted classroom with posters of birds and flowers on the walls. One of the teachers pointed out a beautiful mural, and proudly informed us that a tenth grade student of hers with a particular affinity for the arts had painted it at her suggestion. We then heard her story of growing up in M-East Ward, and aspiring to become a teacher after sitting in a position much the same as the students in her own classroom. She told us how her personal experience inspires her to help students study not just what is on the syllabus, but also cultivate a passion for learning that will remain for the rest of their lives.

This aspiration for achievement through learning seems to be a universal vein that runs through the TISS social outreach programme. It reminded us all of the power of education, and the privilege that we have as University of Sydney students. As we left the bustling streets of M-East Ward, we had a new perspective on this, and a strong sense of what we can do in the future to help others reach the same opportunities.

Yield of land and labour on the modern farm

By Murray Gatt
Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws

Today we visited the rural village of Mograj within the state of Maharashtra. I was interested to learn how this region would compare to our experience of Mumbai, in particular the spatial formation of social and economic inequalities we had observed.

Extravagant shopping malls in Navi Mumbai are situated in close proximity to slums like those in M East Ward. This contradiction continued on our journey towards the village, with the densely populated yet underdeveloped landscape scattered with resorts and high-rise developments.

The farming land in Mograj remains contested as developers and agents seek to purchase farmland for the construction of private homes and resorts. The local people we spoke with believed that recent infrastructure upgrades to roads could be attributed to the government providing for the increasing number of middle and upper-class landowners in the region. Simultaneously, farmers face challenges in accessing water and other basic services. For those that choose to sell their land, these funds prove temporary as they are often not used to the cash economy and are unlikely to invest. The capacity for lower-class people to then purchase land is incredibly limited.

We visited two farms in Mograj to gain insight into their shift from traditional to modern and organic methods of agriculture. This has involved sowing only locally compatible varieties, increasing crop rotations and soil restoration. The new farming methods have significantly improved crop yields, minimised excess water use and are more compatible with a changing climate. Throughout this process the farmers were educated and assisted by a local NGO.

The organisation adopted a process of participatory rural appraisal that incorporates the social, economic and cultural backgrounds of the community into strategies to modernise farming practices. The successful uptake that followed can be attributed to collaborative community participation that ensures the sustainability of local changes.

Interestingly, changes to farming methods have also significantly reduced the labour required. One farmer told us that while ten to fifteen people have ordinarily been required at harvest time, the process now requires two to three. In India, agriculture currently accounts for fifty per cent of employment yet only fifteen per cent of GDP.

These cases raise a question about agricultural labour and economic development. If transitions like this have similar changes to labour intensity of agriculture, they suggest that while the modernisation of farming improves income and satisfaction for farm owners, it is unlikely to create significant employment opportunities for workers without land.

Modernising farms in rural villages like Mograj demonstrate that increasing efficiency and long term sustainability provides multiple benefits to farmers and their communities. However, alone it does not offer a robust solution to the challenges posed within a by jobless growth and increasing inequality.

Inclusive development demands comprehensive responses from the government, non-government and corporate organisations to improve property rights, grow in future productive industries and increase employment opportunities.

On the edge

By Marcello Neilson
Bachelor of Arts (Political Economy) / Laws

Our recent trip to visit a slum area of Mumbai, revealed many insights into what life is like on the edges of Mumbai’s urban transformations.

Greater Mumbai is divided into 24 administrative districts. M Ward, specifically the eastern section (known simply as East Ward) lies a 10 minute drive from the leafy TISS campus. Located on the edge of old Mumbai, East Ward sits on both the physical, economic and social boundaries of the city, appearing as a haphazardly constructed urban sprawl, as if a giant had dropped a handful of Legos. A shanty-town of informal settlements, East Ward has a population of circa 800,000 people and is composed of the poorest and most disadvantaged Mumbai has to offer.

East Ward can be aptly described as an informal settlement with bustle and unique character defining the ‘urban imagery’ of Mumbai. Its informality and chaos are its key features and adds to our cognitive image of Mumbai as a sprawling metropolis.

Bordered by highways and garbage dumps, East Ward’s rhizomatic growth emerges at the intersection of old Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, the newly constructed urban area across the bay, enveloping the open spaces in-between. As such, East Ward clashes with the image that Mumbai wishes to present as the financial capital of India with its visibility at odds with the landmarks of nationalism and modernity that surround it.

At the social, economic and physical periphery of the city, East Ward is defined by its precarious nature. Buildings are made from a mixture of brick, concrete, corrugated iron and tarpaulin. Houses and shops are squeezed ever narrower as they race each other upwards, story after story stacked on top of each other.

East Ward residents face a variety of daily challenges ranging from unreliable access to electricity, clean water, environmental degradation, and the possibility of eviction to make way for new infrastructure.

The first thing we are told as we step off our bus is that part of East Ward will soon to be demolished to make way for the construction of a new High Court of Bombay. This is a sadly familiar fact for the residents of the area, who due to the informal status of their homes have little rights to defend themselves against evictions.

Only 20% of those evicted are resettled, with these resettlements taking place in social housing apartments that interrupt the social cohesion of the area placing further strain on an already stretched social fabric of the area.

Despite the development disadvantages faced in East Ward, it is characterized by a strong social fabric. Our visits to community education centers brought us face to face with teachers, field officers and housing rights activists whose work actively assists and improves the lives of those around them.

East Ward provided us a study in contrasts: a glimpse at the chaotic, informal and precarious life of it’s citizens set against the back drop of one of India’s oldest and wealthiest cities undergoing major transformations.

Oh sh!t: No wipes… and no toilets

By Judita Hudson
Bachelor of Science (Environmental Studies)/ Bachelor of Laws.

Upon arriving in our hostel in India after an exhausting 14 hour flight, we rushed to the toilet. To our surprise, we saw a hand bidet sprayer next to the commode instead of a fresh roll of 3 ply toilet paper. Panic struck and toilet paper became the focal point of all our conversations. We even resorted to purchasing overpriced toilet paper from the local convenience store.

However, upon visiting Mandala, an informal settlement in the M-East ward which is also the poorest ward in Mumbai, I realised the cruel irony that whilst I could not fathom surviving without toilet paper for a single day, only a few kilometres away, thousands of people have hardly any access to toilets.

As I ventured through the bustling lanes of M-East, I was confronted with the distressing sight of an army of flies feasting on faeces on the road. The same flies would then ferociously circle the food products being sold in the open market lanes. It is no wonder that these communities are often plagued by outbreaks of diseases like diarrhoea. Ultimately, the blatant cases of open defecation foregrounds the strained and dysfunctional state of the toilet infrastructure in Mumbai’s informal settlements.

A winding nullah in M-East ward

The 2019 ‘Improving Community Sanitation’ survey revealed the extent of the poor toilet conditions across M-East. There are only 501 toilets which must be shared by a population of almost 1 million. Consequently, locals often have to wait hours to access the toilets and this leads to cases of open defecation.

This is ironic considering the ward was declared open defecation free in 2017. In addition, approximately half of the toilets are dilapidated and 3 people died by falling into a septic tank after a toilet collapsed in Mandala in 2017. To make matters worse, 90% of the toilets have no sewage connection. Instead, the toilets either directly open out into the nullahs or the discharge is thrown into the open gutter where it attracts flies and emanates a putrid odour which wafts through the crowded lanes of settlements. Whilst the findings of the sanitation survey were submitted to the Maharashtra government, but nothing has changed.

We did learn however, that local leaders are building capacity for social change. One of the striking features of M-East is the strong and deeply rooted sense of community spirit and activism. We visited a local school and met community leaders working to educate young people. This project is suppported by a government grant, in partnership with resarchers at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

The community can mobilise to precipitate real change. However, the journey to improve sanitation will be long and difficult if the government is not engaged as a stakeholder. The bigger question hanging over M Ward East concerns agendas to redevelop the slums, for instance through private investment and high-rise apartments.

In comparison to the challenges of toilet infrastructure in slum areas, many of our Western concerns seem trivial. Our toilet paper woes were resolved in less than 24 hours as we were provided with an ample supply of toilet paper by our hostel.

Whether you use a bidet or toilet paper, the real luxury is the toilet.

BUILDING (CODES) for a stronger future

By Ivy He
Bachelor of Engineering / Bachelor of Science

Disaster relief has been my area of interest for a few years now. To me, it’s the perfect intersection of my two degrees – building for resilience or restoring communities after natural disasters.

In India, natural disasters aren’t a topic taught in schools. Back home in Australia, we are well educated on the extreme weather events which affect us, from bushfires to floods. Floods in India are becoming more and more frequent, mainly during the monsoon season, where in the recent 2019 event, more than 200 were killed and approximately a million people were displaced. But how can a developing nation with an ever-growing economy still suffer from critical yet frequently occurring crises like these? These events cost the country a great deal, in terms of rebuilding and resource allocation post-occurrence. Is education the key to the mitigation for these ground-breaking issues?

As the effects of climate change worsen, the consequential natural disasters become more frequent, unpredictable and extreme. It is imperative that developing nations such as India learn to adapt and prepare for the events, to minimise losses in economic, environmental and political spheres. One of the key catalysts than can expedite India’s rise to a global power is bridging the gap between the rural poor and the urban communities. Appropriate and inclusive spending on education and other preventative measures for natural disasters is an important component of this challenge.

‘Warning: Petroleum Pipeline’. A warning sign for a pipeline on the side of the road between the TISS Guest House and our dorms.

In what we’ve seen in Mumbai alone, construction workers lack proper personal protective equipment. There is no sign of helmets, or high visibility clothing. The line between where the edge of the road meets dirt is blurred. Pipelines are decorated along highways as though they are the barrier. As seen in the picture, a petroleum pipeline casually runs parallel to the road. Without any protection, these are disasters waiting to happen. As a civil engineer, these sights send shivers down my spine.

In the Haiti’s 2010 magnitude 7.7 earthquake, 230000 people died. However this number on the Richter scale is minimal in comparison to the magnitude 8.2 earthquakes that shook Mexico in 2017, and Fiji in 2018. A mere 98 people died in the Mexico event, and reportedly none in Fiji. These numbers are a reflection of several factors, one of the most important being the building codes in place in different countries. In the case of both India and Haiti, buildings are not structurally sound because there aren’t sufficient practices or other preventative measures in place. These are parallel cities which are both very densely populated, thus a lack of proper building codes equate to catastrophes waiting to happen. Subsequently, these buildings collapse, and the cost associated in reconstruction is not cheap, yet the occurrence of these events is cyclical. India needs to improve its resilience to natural disasters.

Ultimately, there are many avenues that India can take towards this goal. These include learning from nearby countries which endure similar climatic patterns, improving building standards or even just introducing extreme weather events as a topic in schools. As anthropogenic climate change worsens, there’s nothing ‘natural’ about these natural disasters and we must do what we can to maintain and strengthen the Indian state.