A staggering 218 million people, spanning countries around the world including India, face a serious threat of flooding due to alarming levels of plastic pollution. The main cause of this risk lies in the accumulation of plastic waste in the drainage systems, preventing their proper functioning. Shockingly, this vulnerable population represents three per cent of the world’s population, equivalent to the combined population of the UK, France and Germany.
Plastic’s role in devastating floods
The repercussions of this crisis extend beyond a single event, as it consistently places these people in the path of recurring flooding. Notably, in July 2005, Mumbai experienced devastating floods that claimed the lives of 1,056 people, with economic losses exceeding Rs 9 billion.
The subsequent investigative report identified not only the heavy rainfall but also the clogging caused by plastic debris in the drains as a significant contributing factor to the severity of the flooding.
The plastic bags, which acted as barriers inside the storm drains, impeded the flow of water during monsoon seasons, resulting in the accumulation of rainwater within the city.
The report also references the 1988 floods in Bangladesh, where plastic bags clogged waterways, exacerbating the destructive nature of the deluge. As a consequence, two-thirds of the country were submerged in water.
Plastic pollution aggravates flooding risks
According to a report published by the international advertising agency Tearfund and the environmental consultancy organization Resource Future, the most vulnerable sectors of society are the most affected by this plastic pollution and the resulting flooding. Already facing a lack of basic services, these marginalized communities face the additional burden imposed by the thoughtless disposal of plastic waste.
The report reveals that among those at risk, 41 million are children, older people and disabled people. These segments of society already struggle with health problems and other challenges, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with an additional new threat.
The researchers emphasize that the presence of plastic debris significantly amplifies the severity of flood risks. Plastic clogging within drainage systems exacerbates the impact of flooding and has dire consequences.
The report underlines that this danger continues to increase due to the increasing prevalence of plastic pollution. Between 2000 and 2019, plastic waste is estimated to have doubled, mainly due to inadequate solid waste management.
Plastic waste crisis
Marginalized communities will bear the brunt of the escalating plastic waste crisis. The greatest risk of flooding resulting from plastic pollution exists in South and East Asia, the Pacific region, and sub-Saharan Africa. These regions force people to reside in unsanitary slums amidst dense populations, where infrastructure such as sewage, clean water systems, and healthcare facilities are lacking. Consequently, the danger posed by plastic pollution is further aggravated.
Unplanned development and litter proliferation pose an imminent risk of further flooding in these areas. Even if people survive these flood crises, subsequent diseases spread through contaminated water sources impede their way of life.
If immediate action is not taken to address plastic waste and its disposal, its exponential growth will persist. According to the report, Asia and Africa will be the most affected by this crisis. Furthermore, the current population living in slums is approximately 1 billion, a number that is estimated to increase to 3 billion by 2050.
Climate Change amplifies Flood Risks, plastic waste to triple
Another critical factor to consider in this flood scenario is the impact of climate change. Rising global temperatures are predicted to not only increase rainfall events, but also intensify heavy rainfall over shorter time periods, exacerbating the situation. The report acknowledges that the number of people affected by the floods could potentially exceed the figures presented.
Garbage accumulation has become a global problem. Referring to a new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), projections indicate that plastic waste will triple by 2060. It is estimated that more than 100 million tons of plastic waste.
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