There are rain romantics and rain realists, those who see romance and beauty in the sheets of water hitting the city and those who treat rain as a function of the seasonal cycle that’s initially a pleasant relief from the oppressive humidity of the non-rain months, but quickly turns into a nightmare.
What else is it, if not nightmarish, to negotiate tens of potholes on way to work and back, lose productive time due to disruptions and delays in the suburban train system, wade through filth as it mixes with rain water that doesn’t flow through archaic storm water drains, send our children to schools and colleges in uncertainty? It’s the same story, year after every lost year.
It need not be so. Monsoon is not unexpected nor is the set of issues that accompany days of heavy downpour. Yet we cannot seem to get “monsoon preparedness”, as the venerable Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation calls it, right. The reason is, partly, the entrenched cartel of contractors, politicians and bureaucrats that benefits from perpetuating problems such as potholes.
Partly, it is this approach to “monsoon preparedness” that has kept us in a running-to-stand-still mode: same issues, same band-aid solutions, same weathering of the rains till the next monsoon. It’s an extemporised makeshift sort of a response to an annual urban disrupter. It has surely not escaped our city’s administrators that we live in an era of climate changes and extreme weather conditions are now par for the course.
With all the available data, projections and models, how difficult is it to work out a forward-looking comprehensive disaster management system equipped to address all vagaries of nature rather than stumble from one season to another? It’s time for chief minister Prithviraj Chavan and municipal commissioner Sitaram Kunte to start work on a long-term plan to secure the city against the annual average rainfall and other weather extremes.
New York, with which Mumbai is often compared is being prepared for “rising sea levels and hotter summers” with a $20 billion masterplan that its mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced. Mayors of 48 cities in the United States including NY, elected officers who discharge administrative responsibilities on par with our municipal commissioner, met earlier this week in Washington to adopt a one-page plan to build resilient cities and communities (http://www.resilientamerica.org) ) by addressing issues of climate preparedness, energy security and infrastructure renewal.
Their key concern was that extreme weather events are becoming more and more prevalent and local government is really where the response-action is. The idea behind the one-page plan is that cities and communities should take urgent and long-term measures to avert or mitigate natural disasters rather than manage them and recover from them, which are very expensive. El Paso, for example, which saw unprecedented cold last two years has mounted a $100 million programme to install solar panels on its buildings. Other cities and communities are adopting specific measures that they hope will allow them to manage extreme weather better.
Mumbai’s drill is familiar. As May draws to a close, there’s a scramble to complete pre-monsoon work mainly de-silting drains and relaying/repairing roads. As the first rain hits the city, roads laid with all technologies and managed by all agencies develop potholes. When chief minister Chavan called for a briefing on “monsoon preparedness” in the end of May, only 60 per cent of de-silting had been completed and pothole-filling technologies were being evaluated.
If the authorities adopted long-term strategy and helped build a Mumbai resilient in rain, some of the romance and beauty of the season might return to our lives.