Saturday, April 10, 2010

Delhi Coolers

India Gate at night

An ancient city, Delhi is one of the largest metropolises in the world and was home to around 14 million people according to the Census of 2000. Experts estimate that when the time comes for the next census in 2011, Delhi might have up to 20 million residents, which is indeed a lot of people, surpassing the populations of many countries in Africa and Europe.

Leaves and flowers pile up underneth a tree at the Sundar Nursery, one of Asia's largest nursery's, on Lodhi Road in the summer of 2009.

Delhi’s topography is interesting as it is sandwiched between two important natural resources – the Yamuna river and the world’s oldest mountain chain, the Aravalis. The Aravalis harbour a wide range of flora and fauna and act as the lungs of the city. But over the decades, forests have been cut for land and the hills depleted for stone, still the city boasts of small tracts of forests, which have been protected both by law and by environmentalists.
These stones have been stacked to form a bunding on the eastern slope of the Yamuna in Noida.

Apart from these forests, the city has large parks and green areas, many of which are located at the spots where Delhi's ancient capitals, numbered to be around eight, once stood. Now these green areas also harbour water conservation bodies, tombs, forts and other historical structures.

This historical stone structure near the Mehrauli Archaeological Park in south Delhi has been encroached upon and whitewashed. Photo taken in October 2009.

Both the landmark natural features of India's capital city, the Yamuna and the Aravalis, have not been very fortunate. Despite legislation, moves by activists and increased budget, the river’s health has continued to slide downhill because no water is left in the river to flow. Then, the nearly two-dozen drains in Delhi which carry sewage from the residential areas as also effluents from industrial zones, dump their poisonous contents into the river.

A view of a tree trunk with bulges on its body in the Rose Garden, near the Indian Institute of Delhi (IIT) in July 2009.

The Yamuna and various city forests have contributed a lot in keeping the city cool and without doubt are fighting an important battle, though a losing battle very often. Experts are finally realising that urban forests, like the Central Park in New York city and the Hyde Park in London have a very important role to play in keeping the urban environs cool. Delhi, that way is fortunate because it has numerous green pockets of forests and parks.
The footprints of the Yamuna River under the Nizamuddin flyover just after the monsoon season in 2009.

Though the adverse impacts of climate change on a mega city are difficult to prove, this post tries to capture the beauty of Delhi’s green areas and highlight the important role water bodies, green areas and open spaces play in the lives of urban people. In short, these spaces mitigate the effects of pollution, maintain biodiversity, act as groundwater recharge zones and literally giving a breather to its residents by acting as air purifiers and by negating the the urban heat island effect. Because of the urban heat island impact, concrete structures absorb heat during the day and release slowly during the night, thereby making nights warmer.  
The direction to take: recycle for a cooler city and a planet. This cooling assembly was made by the guards in a south Delhi residential area from discarded things.

The temperature difference is even more apparent when one is sitting or taking a walk around the periphery of a pond or lake. Delhi's water bodies like the Hauz Khas lake, the Sanjay Jheel and the Purana Quila lake not only store the water and allow natural life to take root around them but are important converging points for people to visit and take a stroll.

The Hauz Khas lake captures the rays of the setting sun on a December 2009 evening.

On the other hand, Delhi's city forests like the Shahjahan City Forest, Sanjay Van, the south and the central ridge areas are excellent groundwater recharge zones simply because their natural features have been maintained. These greens help in controlling flooding as a city like Delhi is highly susceptible to water accumulation on roads which brings chaos to normal daily living. Just ask any Delhiite during the monsoon months what a person has to go through!! Many even have lost their lives due to drowning or by getting sucked into the open drains and manholes in the city.
A couple in a January foggy morning in the Nehru Park in the posh displomatic enclave area of Delhi in January 2010.

Delhi's water bodies help protect entire eco-systems from the harsh impacts of urbanisation. In the case of Delhi, these water bodies have an added role to play. The Okhla Bird Sanctuary on the banks of river Yamuna is a good haunt for bird watchers to see, photograph and study birds. During severe winter months the sanctuary attracts migratory birds from as far as Siberia and China.

There is room for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed, said Mahatama Gandhi. The painted grasshopper and the bug agree at the Okhla Bird Sanctuary!!

The presence of both water and dense greenry at the Okhla Bird Sanctuary helps create a conducive habitat for numerous species of birds and a wide variety of insects to live. On the other hand, the city forests provide shelter to species as large as the Neelgai or the blue bull, apart from the smaller ones like rabits etc.
This birdie has turned its back on accumulating things in its nest. It plans to live life according to the moto of the bird family - 'free as a bird'. Photo taken in January 2010.

The interesting part is that these natural spaces provide health and environmetal benefits that cannot be quantified and that too at no cost. The green areas do not require any maintance expenditure of repair work. All that is required is very little actually - and that is the municipal corporations, the public works departments and similar other bodies should leave the green spaces alone.

Nothing that the Delhi Development Agency can ever build can parallel the Yamuna or the Aravalis. Nothing that the Public Works Department can construct can rival the beauty of the Asola Bhatti forest. No matter what the architects, urban planners and engineers can devise, it can never equal the cooling that Delhi's forests and lakes can do.
"There is hope," says this sapling in the Sanjay Van forest area in south Delhi.


Mayank Bhatnagar said...

Some awesome words and pictures here, great going!

Rahul Kumar said...

Thanks a lot Mayank. Managing it still remains an issue. See you soon!!