26 July is often used in context for the day when Mumbai came to a grinding halt. On July 26, 2005 more than 500 people were killed, with majority of deaths reported from shanty town slums, home to a substantial chunk of Mumbai’s population. It occurred just one month after the Gujarat flood in June 2005. On that ill-fated day, a cloudburst had released at least 944 mm of rain on Mumbai’s suburbs, bringing the city to its knees. It brought in its wake, landslides, outbreak of diseases, more than 24,000 animal carcasses, over 20,000 damaged vehicles, at least 2,500 buses and over 1 lakh houses.
Experts blamed unhindered construction on floodplains and coastal areas, along with storm-water drains and clogged waterways by plastic garbage, as reasons for the disaster. The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) station in Santacruz had recorded at least 944 mm of rain for the 24 hours ending 8:30 am on July 27, 2005. Also Read: From affected areas to weather forecast, all your questions answered
It was for the first time ever that Mumbai’s airports – Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Juhu and Sahar aerdome – were closed for more than 30 hours because of heavy flooding on the runways, extremely poor visibility and submerged Instrument Landing System equipment. The airports subsequently opened on July 28 morning. In fact, numerous flights were indefinitely cancelled on July 31 as well due to water logging of the runways. Even the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which saw numerous landslides, was shut for 24 hours, a first incident ever in its history. Also Read: A tale of two cities: The similar story of Mumbai and Chennai floods
Its quite surprising that only after the floods wreaked havoc in Mumbai, the city woke up to the reality that the thick slush-filled stench-emanating rivulet, the Mithi, stretching from Powai lake till the Mahim Creek in the western part, was once a river that flowed out into the Arabian Sea. There were several encroachments on Mithi, bearing ample testimony to the planning body’s sins. While the city area in Mumbai was better off, owing largely to the drainage system built nearly a century ago by the colonial British, the suburbs had to deal with open drains lined with debris, garbage and sewage.
Its common knowledge that in land-starved Mumbai, mangrove zones and mudflats have been encroached upon and devoured by the city’s maddening real estate frenzy. This coupled with the issue of multiplicity of planning agencies such as the municipal corporations, metropolitan development authorities and the state urban development department. Their different ways of functioning makes it difficult to coordinate among themselves.
In fact, a panel from IIT Mumbai came up with an exhaustive report revealing the causes behind urban flooding. The report, which was shared with the Indian Express in December 2015, explained in detail how a host of human factors like land-use changes, crumbling infrastructure, occupation of the flood plain, climate change and indiscriminate disposal of solid waste are some reasons that lead to flooding in urban areas. The panel, which came up with the report, had recommended some sweeping changes in the institutional framework, design of stormwater drains, early warning systems, and urban planning norms.
Urban planner PSN Rao had told the Indian Express that ‘as cities expand and land values rise, planning agencies have allowed rapid land-use changes over areas that serve as natural drains and holding ponds’. He further said there’s a lack of domain expertise in urban flood management and city planning today has failed to effectively integrate public health engineering.