Are we prepared?
How do we manage urban floods? Is there a protocol?
Despite warnings from the Indian Meteorological Department and the state Irrigation and Flood Control Department, Jammu and Kashmir went under water because it did not have a contingency plan, nor did it have a well-equipped state emergency operation centre (seoc).
One might argue that when Mumbai was hit by flood in 2005, Surat in 2006 and Kolkata in 2007, each city had functional seocs, yet they failed to prevent the disaster. This is because the floods they faced in those particular years were quite different from the floods they had faced earlier.
Urban floods are a new challenge. Census 2011 showed that for the first time since 1921, the urban population in India was much more than the rural population. A 2008 study by the National Institute of Disaster Management showed that the annual economic losses from urban flooding are much higher than those incurred from other disasters.
The National Disaster Management Authority (ndma) decided to deal with urban flooding separately.In 2008,it formed a committee on urban floods which formulated the National Guidelines for Management of Urban Flooding. The guidelines were released in 2010.
WHAT THE GUIDELINES SAY
ndma acknowledges the increasing frequency of urban flooding. It says that the causes of urban flooding are different for each city, which is why flood management strategies need to be customised. Policies for a coastal city, for example, would have to be different from a city located on the hills.
ndma proposed an Urban Flooding Cell with a technical umbrella for forecasting and warning at the state level. It mooted a local network of automatic rainfall gauges for realtime monitoring. Local authorities were asked to go in for contour mapping, put the existing storm water drainage network on geographic information system (gis) and desilt all drains by March end every year. It also suggested that lakes should be freed from encroachment so that the natural drainage system of a city could be maintained.
GUIDELINES NOT BINDING
Most of the state governments have not been sincere in implementing ndma’s guidelines. “But are the guidelines binding?” asks
A K Sarma of the Indian Institute of Technology (iit), Guwahati, who was a member of the committee formed by ndma. It is up to the states to implement the rules. The state governments are not “compelled” to follow the guidelines, so nothing ever happens, Sarma adds. He says there needs to be a holistic approach to address urban floods. “While preparing the guidelines, we had the diversity of India in mind and knew that the rainfall that Jaipur receives is not the same as what Shillong receives. So we tried to cater to all types of cities,” he explains.
He adds that for proper implementation of the guidelines, various departments have to come together.For example,the problem of urbanisation is not only wrong town planning but also encroachment of wetlands and water channels, which reduces a city’s natural capacity to handle floods.To correct this, municipal corporations have to work closely with the Irrigation and Flood Control Departments. But administrative differences make it difficult to handle a disaster like urban flood.
This is evident from what happened in Srinagar. Despite repeated warnings by the Irrigation and Flood Control Department about the encroachment of the drainage channels in the city, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation failed to clear these channels.
ndma guidelines also stress on the need to make the planning process participatory. Following the hierarchical structure of administrative systems, flood control measures are planned without the participation of the affected communities. “In many cases, this results in unsustainable measures which don’t meet the needs of relevant stakeholders,” state the guidelines.
While most cities in India are yet to wake up to the problem of urban flooding, Guwahati, which faces floods almost every year, is getting ready with an action plan. The Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (gmda) has taken up a project in the city’s Garbhanga hill for scientific management of rainwater that flows down the hill during monsoon, triggering landslides and choking drains with silt. Siltation in the drains by sediments carried by rainwater has been identified as one of the major causes of waterlogging in the city. gmda also plans to clear encroachments along the drainage channels of Guwahati.
gmda is being given technical support by iit-Guwahati, and Shristie, a city-based civil engineering firm, which focuses on plantation in the hills, development of an efficient drainage system, putting up structures on the hill to check the speed of water and rainwater harvesting.The project is touted to be the first of its kind in India.
While some states have accepted that urban floods are becoming frequent, as are extreme weather events, and are taking steps to revive their natural drainage systems, others continue to be in denial. It is time the governments woke up to the crisis of urban floods and took adequate measures to preserve the ecological balance, while keeping contingency plans ready to deal with any unforeseen disaster.
A road in Srinagar caves in under the pressure of floodwater from an overflowing Jhelum