There is just one thing new about rain-related disasters and that is where they strike. This time it is Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, relatively untouched by the scourge of floods. Otherwise, the figures relating to those killed or rendered homeless by floods are just numbers that recur year after year. This year, early in the season, it is over 120, and sure to rise as the monsoon picks up. In Mumbai, a landslide killed two people in the suburb of Chembur, despite the city administration’s frenzied and much-publicised pre-monsoon activity. True, it was a rainy Sunday with a total of over 200 mm of rain deluging the suburbs. But let us not forget that this is still merely a quarter of the rain that battered the city on July 26, 2005. Hence, there is little reason for the city’s administrators to be smug about their efforts. The trains were again late, if not stalled, despite the work that has gone in the last two years into cleaning the drains. The Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drain project keeps popping up like a jack-in-the-box when flooding in Mumbai is mentioned, as if it were a panacea for the city’s flooding woes. But the fact is that the project is nowhere close to becoming a reality.
If this is the case with Mumbai, fondly hoping to position itself as a world class financial hub sometime in the distant future, the rest of India can expect much less. For instance, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister has announced relief of Rs 4,000 for people whose houses have been washed away and Rs 2,000 for submerged houses. That’s surely a travesty of justice. Finally, there is the worrying aspect that the monsoon has become hard to predict, as for instance in its inexplicable appearance in parts of Andhra Pradesh that are actually drought-prone, or at best, expect receives rain only in July.
If it is a warning sign of climate change then it is time for a national initiative to work towards disaster prevention measures, wherever there is a possibility of flooding, rather than disaster management after the event, which includes chief ministers ritually surveying submerged areas from the safety of a helicopter.