Are we pre­pared?

How do we man­age ur­ban floods? Is there a pro­to­col?

Down to Earth - - COVER STORY -

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.


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.


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

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