At least 80 people have lost their lives in floods in Telangana, Maharashtra and Karnataka in the past 72 hours. The maximum casualties were caused by overflowing nallahs, incidents of wall or building collapse and electrocution in Hyderabad and Pune. This grim story has been repeating itself with worrying frequency in urban India for at least 10 years. Pune is facing the fury of torrential rains for the second consecutive year. Chennai faced a crippling flood five years ago, Guwahati gets submerged almost every year. Patna, Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai have their monsoon travails and Hyderabad received its heaviest September rainfall in more than 100 years last year.
On Wednesday, as Telangana’s capital recorded its highest 24-hour rainfall for October in more than a century, its nearly 100-year-old drainage system was caught unprepared. As in most flooding incidents in the country, the only semblance of resilience shown by Hyderabad’s authorities was in relief and rescue. But it’s time that Indian cities plan for the vagaries of weather, develop systems that help them deal with hazards such as floods or excessive heat.
As Indian cities have expanded, they have wrested areas that were once major drainage points. At the same time, stormwater drains in most Indian cities remain locked in decades-old networks and are most often clogged. This means excessive rainfall gets trapped within city boundaries. Climate vagaries of the last two decades have exacerbated the problem. This year, Mumbai received 80 per cent of its August rainfall in the first five days of the month, parts of the city that have rarely been flooded were under water. More than one IPCC report has pointed to the climate vulnerability of coastal areas such as Mumbai and Chennai.
It’s unfortunate that recent technology-enabled initiatives — the Smart Cities Project, for example — have very little by way of bolstering climate adaptability. In fact, according to a 2018 report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the University of Louvain School of Public Health, Brussels and the NGO SEEDS, more than 55 per cent of India’s smart cities are prone to floods.
According to estimates, more people will live in urban centres in India compared to the rural ones by 2050. It’s imperative that while planning for houses, roads, hospitals and other infrastructure, policymakers respect an area’s hydrology. The solutions could vary according to local conditions and climate adaptability could be an adroit mix of natural and technological means — sensors in drains that warn of floods, tried in Buenos Aires and some US cities for example. The floods in Hyderabad and Pune are a warning that there is no time to waste.
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