Between 2005’s Mumbai flooding and 2015’s Chennai devastation, many urban floods have shaken the country but the planners have not learnt any lesson.
Urban India is growing fast but in an unplanned manner. Our rivers, water bodies, natural flood water discharging streams and other water ways have been dying a forced death due to the visionless growth of concrete structures, roads, market complexes and all that are associated with our modern day cities.
Water bodies not only provide the necessary sponge for absorbing flood waters thereby reducing the impacts of the floods, but also help recharge ground water and maintain other functions of urban ecosystems.
But shrinking surface water bodies such as lakes, ponds, marshlands and flood plains have caused the maximum damage due to the excessive rainfall induced floods in urban areas in the recent past.
A study finds out that India has lost almost 50 per cent of the open water surface and wetlands to other land uses between 1911 and 2014. The loss is more in urban areas.
Here are India’s five flood prone cities that were recently in news and have lost much of their water bodies:
In November last year, Chennai received more than 1200 mm of rainfall – a record in 100 years – that is almost three times the average it received that month. Then on the first day of December, the city received almost 374 mm rainfall, while the average for the entire month is about 191 mm, making it the wettest December day in the history of the city.
Dead and heavily encroached water bodies of the city made the impacts of these incessant rains worse than anyone could ever imagine.
Pallikarni marshland – the city’s largest flood sink – was once spread over an area of 5000 hectares. It has been reduced to just 12 per cent of the original size by 2011. Maduravoyal Lake spread over 120 acres has shrunk down to 25 acres.
Two decades ago, a study had identified 650 water bodies in Chennai of which only a very few exist today.
In 2014, the capital city of Jammu and Kashmir was completely devastated by a heavy flood and the impact was mainly due to loss of water bodies. This city lost almost 50 per cent of water bodies between 1911 and 2004.
The Capital, which is often flooded due to encroachment of Jamuna flood plains and other urban planning disorders, is said to have lost 200 water bodies in a few decades. It now has 600 water bodies as against 800 earlier.
Still haunted by the 2005 flood devastation, Mumbai has lost a lot of its water bodies. A report in 2013 said that one third of the remaining 103 water bodies could be in real danger of extinction if urgent conservation measures were not taken.
The flood prone coastal city on the Mahandi delta has lost almost half of its surface water bodies just in 25 years. A survey points out that the city had 424 water bodies in 1990, but was left with only 245 in 2004.
We really can’t afford to lose our water bodies like this. Climate change is as such going to bring in more extreme events such as floods. Loss of water bodies will only bring more devastation to our cities.
Chennai floods that affected almost 80 per cent of the city population and damaged properties worth about Rs.15,000 crores, should send urgent alarm bells to our urban planners and policy makers.
(Ranjan Panda is an Indian environmentalist, water and climate change expert).