Après le déluge

Mum­bai’s flood shows the need to im­prove in­fra­struc­ture and pro­to­cols in ur­ban cen­tres

The Hindu - - EDITORIAL -

The re­turn of the del­uge to Mum­bai and the paral­y­sis suf­fered by the city bring up the ques­tion of why In­dian cities are un­able to im­prove their re­silience to ex­treme weather events. As the nu­cleus of fi­nan­cial ac­tiv­ity, Mum­bai’s losses nat­u­rally have na­tional im­pli­ca­tions. The flood­ing re­duced trad­ing vol­umes in the stock mar­ket, and thou­sands had to stay on in their of­fices af­ter the work­day. All this brings back mem­o­ries of the dis­as­ter of 2005 caused by over 99 cm of rain­fall in a 24-hour pe­riod leav­ing hun­dreds dead. There has been dis­tress­ing loss of life this time too, but on a lower scale. Be­yond the po­lit­i­cal wran­gling on bad man­age­ment, such ex­treme weather events trig­ger valu­able research and anal­y­sis on de­vel­op­ing bet­ter pre­dic­tion and man­age­ment sys­tems. Re­searchers at the In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy in Mum­bai have, for in­stance, pro­vided path­ways for nearly 450 sq. km of the city to bet­ter pre­pare for mon­soonal floods, us­ing the worstcase sce­nario of a dozen years ago as the base­line. There should nat­u­rally be an in­quiry into whether the re­forms pro­posed over time, rang­ing from clear­ing of drainage chan­nels and re­moval of en­croach­ments to the cre­ation of hold­ing ponds to tem­po­rar­ily store large vol­umes of wa­ter, gained any trac­tion. Over time, man­grove wet­lands in the east­ern fringes and drain paths in the north-west of the city have lost much of their ca­pac­ity ow­ing to un­planned de­vel­op­ment. The lat­est down­pour un­der­lines why loss of ur­ban wet­lands should be halted and com­pen­satory lakes cre­ated.

Learn­ings from Mum­bai are im­por­tant for other cities as well, to pre­pare for a fu­ture in which sci­en­tists think there will be more days of short but in­tense rain spells. Nu­mer­i­cal weather pre­dic­tion has con­sis­tently im­proved. Re­searchers from IIT Gand­hi­na­gar pub­lished a fore­cast on so­cial me­dia warn­ing of 100 mm­plus rain­fall for the re­gion on Au­gust 29, four days ahead. These re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate mod­els open up pos­si­bil­i­ties for au­thor­i­ties to evac­u­ate vul­ner­a­ble sec­tions early, res­i­dents to stock up on es­sen­tial sup­plies and dis­as­ter man­age­ment au­thor­i­ties to re­view op­tions. In­dian cities are poorly planned and man­aged, ex­pos­ing them to cycli­cal weather havoc; it is im­per­a­tive that civic bod­ies pro­duce flood risk maps and re­strict de­vel­op­ment in the ar­eas. Given that mon­soon flood­ing is in­escapable, cit­i­zens and com­mu­ni­ties need to pre­pare. Putting new con­struc­tions on stilts, retrofitting houses to lo­cate elec­tri­cal in­stal­la­tions high above, and cre­at­ing a first re­sponse pro­to­col are all im­por­tant. In­tro­duc­tion of in­sur­ance cover for house­holder losses will pro­vide fi­nan­cial pro­tec­tion and, cru­cially, re­quire city ad­min­is­tra­tions to pro­vide pro­fes­sional man­age­ment. If there is a sin­gle pri­or­ity that ev­ery city needs, it is to re­open the veins of nat­u­ral drainage that have been cal­lously built over. Mum­bai this year and Chen­nai’s dis­as­trous flood of 2015 un­der­score that les­son.

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