Chennai flooding: Don’t just blame the rains

Updated on Nov 09, 2021 11:33 AM IST

The extensive water-logging and flooding across Chennai have happened because of wrong land-use planning, unsustainable urbanisation

Tamil Nadu fire and rescue team during a rescue operation at a waterlogged area following heavy rain in Chennai, November 7, 2021. (PTI) PREMIUM
Tamil Nadu fire and rescue team during a rescue operation at a waterlogged area following heavy rain in Chennai, November 7, 2021. (PTI)
ByHT Editorial

Heavy rains lashed Chennai and adjoining districts of Tamil Nadu from Saturday night through Sunday, forcing authorities to rescue at least 500 people, close educational institutions, and issue travel advisories. On Saturday, Chennai witnessed the highest rainfall in a single day since 2015. The India Metrological Department, on Sunday, said that a cyclonic circulation lies over north coastal Tamil Nadu, southeast of the Bay of Bengal and a low-pressure area is likely to form by November 9, which would then move towards the Tamil Nadu coast, bringing more rain for at least the next three days. Weather department officials claimed that the heavy rainfall episode is not linked to the climate crisis because such extreme rains have happened several times in the past. The record for the highest rainfall in Chennai on a single day in November is still that of 1976.

The heavy downpour has brought Chennai, India’s manufacturing capital, to a standstill. However, that’s not the only reason for such large-scale disruption. The extensive water-logging and flooding across Tamil Nadu’s capital have happened because of several other reasons: Wrong land-use planning, unsustainable urbanisation, failure of the civic authorities to remove encroachments such as the infrastructure around rivers, lakes, and watercourses, and delays in cleaning stormwater channels.

Interestingly, Chennai, one of the wettest cities in India, also suffers from a water crisis. This is because floods and water scarcity have the same roots: Urbanisation and heavy construction activities, without taking into account the city’s natural limits. The state’s climate action plan predicts that the average annual temperature will rise 3.1°C by 2100 from 1970-2000 levels, while yearly rainfall will fall by as much as 9%. Precipitation during the June-September southwest monsoon will reduce while the flood-prone cyclone season in the winter, when the state gets most of its rain from the northeast monsoon, will become more intense. That could mean worse floods and droughts. For Tamil Nadu, as for other parts of India, the message is clear: Change or perish.

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