Disastrous night and fearful futures
Research shows that migrants to a city often live in ecologically-sensitive habitats. A “Climate Hazards Map of Mumbai”, created by YUVA, confirms that most informal settlements in the city are located in areas that are exposed to multiple disasters. A case in point is of New Bharat Nagar, which lies along the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre hills in eastern Mumbai. The settlement, inhabited largely by migrant workers, is sensitive to landslides during heavy rains; in response, the government has built a retaining wall above the basti.
The night of 18th June, 2021 stands as proof of the fact that retaining walls are not a solution, and in fact, can further contribute to a problem – a ‘maladaptation’. That night, as the community settled into their beds, rain battered against their tin roofs, lulling them to sleep. A little past midnight, a few of them awoke to the sound of a distant crash followed by muffled cries. The retaining wall had collapsed, taking 19 lives with it. As grief consumed the community, the members were left to pick up the pieces of their lives with no one there to listen to their stories of loss and frustration, of their fears and collective suffering. A few reported that the trauma of the incident wouldn’t allow them to sleep on rainy nights; they would stay awake so as to be able to escape if another disaster came. The response of the local government, especially in clearing up the debris, was inefficient and had, in fact, contributed to their anxieties. Now, over a year later, collapsed houses remain exposed to the skies, and debris is still littered all around. These are gaping wounds that impede the healing of the community.
Across the city, informal settlements inhabited largely by daily-wage migrants have crumbled and have had to be rebuilt due to landslides, floods, earthquakes, and other disasters. Poor communities are forced to rebuild their surroundings in an institutional vacuum, and the process of physical rebuilding takes a toll not only on their material wealth but also on their psychosocial well-being.