Why Indian cities like Gurugram are drowning during rains

While climate change is a complex subject, there are several issues that are crippling our cities when it comes to deluge.

 |  4-minute read |   02-08-2016
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Three hours of downpour last Friday brought Gurugram to a grinding halt.

The unexpected (yet mere 4.6cm) rainfall unleashed chaos in the city that extended beyond the so-called Millennium City and had its ripple effect on Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad.

The severity of the event can be gauged from the fact that the police in Gurugram had to issue instructions to Dilliwalas to avoid visiting the city to reduce congestion on the roads connecting Gurugram.

Ritual

The incidents of cities coming to a halt due to rains have now become an annual ritual.

Last year, the rains in Chennai claimed over 100 lives and caused damages worth Rs 20,000 crore.

chennai-street-flood_080216094231.jpg Chennai floods. (PTI)

Rails and roads were destroyed, thousands were rendered homeless and airports were shut after the city recorded a whopping 1218.6mm of rain - three times its monthly rainfall.

Just about six months ago, the situation was similar in Gujarat where heavy rainfall created a flood-like situation in cities like Ahmedabad and Rajkot.

In India, there is a growing evidence of less than normal rainfall during the monsoon season, as compared to an increase in the post-monsoon period.

Also read - Why Delhi is as bad as Gurugram during rains

Also, changes in atmospheric conditions have resulted in a higher frequency of dry rainfall spells and increasing intensity of wet spells and these extreme weather events are increasing the risk of drought as well as flooding in India.

While climate change is a complex subject, there are several issues that are crippling our cities when it comes to deluge.

Here are three key reasons behind it.

One, growing tendency to neglect urban planning: our cities are mostly planned without taking into account their natural topography, which means undulation, natural drains, etc, are not considered.

And even if they are taken into account, they are mostly flattened to maximise the total "developable" land, as land is a scarce resource in cities.

The result is that in the event of even moderate rains, water gets stuck because buildings, roads, etc, come up in place of the natural drainage system of the city.

Projects

In Chennai, many large projects, including the airport, are built on floodplains of Adyar river; the sprawling bus terminus is on the flood-prone Koyembedu, a mass rapid transit system is being constructed over Buckingham Canal and marsh lands of Pallikaranai.

The Pallikaranai marshland that drains water from a catchment area of over 250sqkm has shrunk from 50 sqkm to 4.3sqkm in Chennai.

Two, undying love for concrete: the love for concrete results is stagnant water that can't find an outlet for hours or even days.

Rampant, haphazard construction works have encroached and even blocked drains.

Also read - Bengaluru, Gurugram rains: Are names of cities more important than people?

Gurugram, for instance, had not seen waterlogging till about 15 years ago. The city till then had enough porous spaces for water to seep through.

However, as development caught up, not only did the link between water bodies got destroyed, but the city also lost its porous spaces.

Three, skipping climate resilience while planning: how city planning does not consider climate resilience can be gauged from the fact that ten minutes of rain cause most traffic lights to stop working.

Even in case of Gurugram, most jams inside the city were due to traffic light failure and not flooding.

Pattern

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy killed 44 people, caused damages worth crores of dollars in New York City, and left over two lakh people without electricity for several days.

However, since then the city has been working towards the concept of "Flexible Adaptation Pathways" as part of its long-term planning.

We are living in a world where we need to accept that the "unexpected" will happen in natural or man-made form and, therefore, cities should be ready on two counts.

First, planning should be such that these disasters do not occur and, second, even if these incidences do happen, the city should be thoroughly prepared to minimise the damage.

A lot can be done around the content of this preparedness - right planning, right coordination and right execution.

Also read - How to make PM's smart cities plan work

India must start looking at the similarities in the pattern behind urban crises in different cities across the country.

Once the problem is acknowledged, we will need a focused task force comprising champions of change and leaders.

We need to empower these leaders locally who are aware of ground realities and urban problems, open to looking at sustainable solutions and will go ahead and adopt the change, whatever it takes.

And we need to ensure that they are not held back by external factors.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Amit Bhatt Amit Bhatt @amitbhatt4u

The writer is head of transport at WRI India - EMBARQ.

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