Chennai’s floods show the need for climate-conscious urbanisation

  • Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 24, 2015 00:48 IST
Indian men make their way on a flooded street following heavy rain in Chennai on November 16, 2015. Large areas of the southern Indian city of Chennai have been flooded following days of heavy rain. (AFP Photo)

Was the recent episode of heavy rains and flooding in Chennai, which brought the metropolis to its knees for several days, a consequence of climate change? It could very well be.

In a recent interview to HT, India Meteorological Department director-general LK Rathore said that such extreme weather events in recent years match the predicted effects of global warming, though more research into individual episodes must be done.

If climate change is indeed the culprit, then the Chennai floods should come as a severe warning to authorities since there could be many more such episodes in the near future across the country. And the only way to minimise the deleterious impacts of such wayward climate changes would be to make Indian cities climate resilient.

But to just blame climate change-induced heavy rain alone for the chaos in Chennai would be wrong. Like Kashmir (2014) and Uttarakhand (2013), Chennai was also as much a man-made disaster as it was a climate disaster.

In its rush to develop, the government and urban planners have completely destroyed its vast network of water bodies that would soak in extra water in case of heavy rainfall and the natural drainage system. The city’s largest mall, Phoenix, is on a lake-bed — Velachery. The Second Masterplan of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority also has scant regard for hydrology, claim experts.

By 2031, India’s urban population is projected to increase by more than 200 million to 600 million, or 40% of the national population.

Indian cities must build resilience so that they can withstand such natural shocks and become more appealing to do business and attract talent. But building resilience, as Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, says, is not a sprint or even a marathon.

It’s a relay race. And that must begin in right earnest now to ensure that every disruption does not become a disaster.

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