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Making cities flood proof

This Monsoon too confirms that we haven’t learnt any lessons from our past mistakes. Parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Bihar and Assam – all have become victims of nature’s fury. Many lives have been lost, properties worth crores have been destroyed and many have been rendered homeless. The death toll from a fresh spell of monsoon-driven floods in India has crossed 200 and affected more than a million residents. This scenario is not peculiar to this year alone and we have been seeing it all these years.

It’s a shame that when we can reach Moon we can’t make our cities flood proof. We are dreaming of converting our 100 citesinto smart cities while we haven’t been able to develop floodproof roads.

Its true that the majority of the population of this agriculture-dependant country in the Indian Ocean rim is depended on the Indian summer monsoon for their survival and daily livelihood. Unfortunately, monsoon is one of the most unpredictable climate phenomena in the globe and it can substantially affect the population not only in terms of their basic livelihood, but also by inducing geohazards such as flash floods and inundation. In the present case, most of coastal cities are the worst affected as these are densely populated and are prone to sea-level rise, storm surges and tropical cyclones, of which recent studies portraits are intense under climate change scenarios.

Though no one can withstand the nature’s fury but there is man’s contribution too to this annual ritual by way of short-sighted urban planning and surface sealing by concrete which in turn creates urban heat islands. The cities are vulnerable to floods by multiple causes such as rivers in the city itself, faulty urban design and planning, the dynamic and vulnerable coastline, flash floods, storm surges, cyclones and tsunamis. India cannot blindly mimic the urban success stories elsewhere as we have greater vulnerability than developed countries at city scale, because of rapid increase in population as compared to the capacity of infrastructure, resulting in the deficit of their adaptation measures towards climate variability and future exposure to flood risks.

In all the cities in India burgeoning population and encroachment have resulted in the unavailability of land for residential and commercial purposes, leaving the city with the only vertical growth option. This has been further facilitated by the government through favourable floor space index (FSI) norms.

There are thousands of pages of study reports and analysis which list out the reasons for frequent floods in cities and important among them are the adverse effects of population growth, faulty land use of cities, age old storm water drainage system, destruction of greenery and mangroves, vanishing lakes and unscientific reclamation.

Though it is technically difficult to re-plan the city structures in the current scenario, it is possible to adapt to and mitigate the effects of natural hazards through suitable planning and management with the integrated cooperation and involvement of citizens and government as well. However, our ability to adapt mitigation and management techniques is very limited and almost equal to non-existent. Flood adaptation strategies are usually intended to minimize impacts on various sectors such as built environment, human health, water quality and transport infrastructures. As a nation dreaming to become third largest economy in the world in next few years, we should have efficient and effective adaptation strategies and the services of structures and facilities to defend flood, use solutions which are nature-based, have early warning systems, include financing schemes to tackle and reduce the economic loss due to the flood risk, practice risk-informed land planning. The government should give up the “chalta hai” attitude and the at the same time citizens should become activists, if not fulltime at least for some genuine causes.

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