Kedarnath, Mumbai, Chennai – when will we wake up ?

It could be climate change, it could be that we are facing the once in a 100 years kind of flood, whatever be the exact reason, parts of India keep on facing one mega climate extremity after another. The cyclones we see that hit the east coast from time to time, as well as earthquakes, all of these can be claimed as mother nature where we can’t really do anything (although there are many ways to try and reduce the human deaths and injuries, but we can talk about that later). The problems we are going to talk about can be beautifully caricatured in the mega Mumbai flood of 2005 (and in the subsequent floods and deaths after that). The Mumbai flood was what set in process a motion of trying to figure out why there was such a huge flood caused due to abnormal rain and the process of how to handle this much water (although there is not really much progress in implementing the measures that would reduce the impact of the rain water and flood).
The Mumbai flood was a big shock. Mumbai is seen as the financial capital of the country, a place always on the move. That a day of rain could stop the city totally, cause huge damage and a loss of life that was in the hundreds was a huge shock. The trains stopped, traffic came to a standstill and people who would otherwise move long distances for their daily commute had to either find a place to stay while things could come to normalcy again, or walked back long distances to their home.

The reason for the whole city to come to a stop, for people to die submerged in their cars on the road, and for the other shocking events that happened on this day, was blamed on a huge amount of rainfall. The amount of rainfall was unprecedented. However, at the same time, this is a coastal city, with the sea right next door and with a river and other drainage streams that could drain the water to the sea, even if this takes time. Later analysis showed that there were water patterns in the city where a combination of the position of high/low tide did play a role in preventing the outflow of the water, but the major problem was that unprecedented development and land grab had caused a huge impact of the water ways in the city, choking them and preventing them from being able to drain the huge quantities of water that was falling on the city.
The Mithi river was later acknowledged to be so degraded that it was no better than a drain, unable to process the huge quantity of water flowing through the city. It was primarily this ability to drain the water that was to be main disaster causing factor in the Mumbai floods. However, even 10 years after these floods and identification of the main problem, the required intelligence to make the changes has not happened. There is no push from the citizens for ensuring that development is scientific, that encroachments on the river and other water channels are removed.
Just to remind the people of this country that this is something that they really need to take up, the Kedarnath floods happened. Same problem. Huge amount of rainfall and encroachments on the river banks. So channels do not really have the space to handle these enhanced quantity of water, and a lot of construction happens on the river banks, where any increase in the flow of the water would cause the rapidly overflowing river to become a violent torrent and that is what happened. Huge amounts of fast moving water literally tore down all those encroachments in the path of the water, causing a huge amount of casualties and destroying buildings. And yet, one really does not see the implementation of building codes in the hilly regions of the country, making this a disaster ready to happen again.
And then the recent Chennai floods. Same problem. Lots of falling water, water reservoirs and channels choked or destroyed, vastly decreasing the ability to drain the water, and the overflowing water quickly turns the city into a huge extension of a reservoir. And in this case, combine this problem with the almost criminal lack of responsibility by those handling the water levels of the reservoirs and channels, and this was a disaster that was bound to happen; it was almost like deliberately letting this happen.
I will not talk about what needs to be done. Any expert, all the Government agencies know what needs to be done to ensure that cities and areas are better prepared to handle these deluges, but it will take a lot of effort and political conviction for making the changes that need to happen. One could say that it is their duty to make these changes, but duty does not always happen.

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