Sinking cities: another day, another disaster

If you are a regular consumer of news, in recent weeks you might have had your fill of pictures and reports about flooded streets, traffic jams and homes being submerged.

Published: 11th October 2017 04:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th October 2017 02:16 AM   |  A+A-

If you are a regular consumer of news, in recent weeks you might have had your fill of pictures and reports about flooded streets, traffic jams and homes being submerged. The monsoon is now a disaster-a-day occurrence: Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kochi and Chennai. Urban flooding is no longer a rare outrage; it is a weekly event.

Last Monday, Hyderabad faced a few hours of steady rainfall. This unleashed predictable chaos. Lakes flooded homes and streets, toxic foam seeped out of manholes, roads had to be shut, a wall collapse killed a disabled man and his four-month-old infant—when their bodies were unearthed, it was found that the man had died trying to shield his child. By the time things settled down and houses dried up, this Monday saw the city’s newest, shiniest destination receive 6.1 cm of rain in an hour and the cliched headlines of
life coming to a standstill popped up again—in fairness, the cliche is the  most accurate descriptor.

Monsoons are no longer urban inconveniences. They are complete life-ruining disasters and if experts are right, these disasters are going to become more frequent as fewer spells of higher density rainfall become the norm. India’s cities are not prepared for this. Desilting and dredging of drains is as far as preparedness goes in most parts—long-term planning with an investment of resources (on revamping sewerage systems or dealing with waste) and the will to take unpopular decisions are nowhere on the horizon.

Worse, the same mistakes continue to be made. In Hyderabad, a city with 140 lakes, construction on lake beds continues with permissions. As seen in Chennai in 2015, it is only natural for a house built on a lake bed to get flooded when the lake fills up with rainwater. We need to ask our governments—state and central—what they are doing to prevent such constructions and what they are doing to prepare for the inevitable. We need to ask ourselves when enough will be enough.

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