Water water everywhere and we must stop to think

Synopsis: Floods have begun to affect an increasing area of India with rising intensity and frequency. Urban infrastructure is under severe pressure, and it’s unclear if we are prepared for worse.

Introduction

Incidents of floods in urban areas have been increasing year after year in India.

Rainy season flooding in metro cities like Mumbai and now even Chennai has begun to host recurring floods.

This year, 11 September saw Delhi’s international airport waterlogged after its heaviest rainfall in 46 years, barely three weeks after a similar episode.

Kolkata logged a 13-year peak in precipitation, with canals for roads and even areas that had always stayed relatively dry getting soaked.

Bengaluru reported arterial roads and junctions flooded on 25 July.

The floods in Hyderabad after a torrential downpour on 2 September had a lethal quality: gushing waters swept away vehicles and hand-carts.

Several other state capitals have been submerged in recent years, Lucknow, Thiruvananthapuram, Patna, Bhopal and Ahmedabad among them.

What are the causes of floods?

Repeated floods in the cities are being caused primarily by cloudbursts in urban zones and overflowing rivers in the hinterland.

Among the contributors to recurrent floods in many cities, we have sewage systems choked with the debris of construction material.

Climate change is also responsible for such recurring floods in our cities.

What is the impact of the floods?

Floods destroy lives and property, impede routine engagements and undermine the finances of governments, businesses and financial institutions.

What are the associated issues?

This raises two important issues that go to the heart of India’s urban design.

Poor state of our urban infrastructure, with city planning and design lagging population and income growth. In most cities, that bedrock of support is out of sync with the demands of the user population and therefore under severe stress.

Given the rapid pace of urbanization in India the strain will only worsen in the years ahead unless apt investments are made in urban physical and social infrastructure.

Lack of planning for future contingencies: The second big issue is that ongoing public projects to plug gaps may not be building adequate space for future contingencies. We need to test the resilience of current infra projects against likely future scenarios of climate change. For example, if mean sea levels rise, as expected, are Mumbai or Chennai prepared for the consequences?

A related worry is our lack of emphasis on institutionalizing green investments and systems, whether it is buildings or roads.

Source: This post is based on the article “Water water everywhere and we must stop to think” published in Livemint on 30th Sep 21.

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