Waterlogging in Patna exposes poor urban governance – and Sushasan Babu
What happened in America? This is what Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar snapped back when asked about the flooding that has battered the state capital. To the extent that extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change have bought misery to varied parts of the world, including the richest countries, he is correct. But in suggesting that his government should not therefore be quizzed on what it has done to mitigate such disasters, he is thoroughly mistaken.
India has seen its wettest September since 1917. Where the monsoon usually begins to retreat early this month, it continued raining heavily in different states. So much so that besides Bihar, where over 40 people have lost their lives, over the past week deaths have also been reported from the low-lying areas of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Jharkhand. As for the city in the eye of the storm the waterlogging in Patna has been described as unprecedented, as if it had suffered a cloudburst.
It has bared there the inadequacy of urban design and infrastructure, a fate shared with Chennai, Mumbai and many other cities. Actually so poor is the overall planning and coordination that states like Bihar, Karnataka and Maharashtra swing from drought conditions to flooding in the same year. When rain is abundant they can neither store enough of it nor drain it properly. There is an urgent need for capacity enhancement on both fronts. This involves complex challenges like understanding the shifting flows of rivers, with huge populations already inhabiting vulnerable floodplains. But some of this is basic municipal upkeep, such as unclogging the stormwater drains that are choked with plastic and other waste materials.
One VIP victim of waterlogging this year was deputy chief minister Sushil Modi, who was stuck inside his house for three days before being rescued. This is again illustrative of why everyone should join forces for climate mitigation, because everyone is affected by it. What Patna is suffering today any city could suffer tomorrow. So every chief minister should be proactive. Instead of deflecting by pointing fingers far and away, help fix your own backyard. Improving dam and reservoir management, protecting the Western Ghats, recharging aquifers, reclaiming wetlands, desilting rivers, increasing local accountability … the solutions are many, they only await a will to act.