Extreme weather is the new norm
For the second time this year, Bihar is submerged. In July, 13 districts in north Bihar were inundated, and now, it’s the turn of four other districts, including the capital, Patna. To be sure, one cannot attribute the excessive rainfall and the subsequent floods to climate change without a detailed scientific study. But its impact on the deluge is discernible. For one, the state was facing a rain deficit of up to 20% until September 19, but the current spell has brought down the deficit to 2%. Two, normally, the monsoon begins to retreat around September 1. However, this year, there has been a delay of over a month. The broader context too, is hard to miss. Extreme rainfall events are on the rise in the country. Long dry spells, accompanied with more intense rainfall concentrated over fewer days, are becoming the norm.
The floods, especially in urban India, are taking place not just due to climate change, but also inadequate urban planning, which has not paid attention to natural water bodies and has forgotten the “art of drainage”, as environmentalist Sunita Narain writes in Why Urban India Floods. Urban water bodies, such as wetlands, provide crucial services like groundwater recharge (which is helpful during water-scarce summers, the other face of climate change) and flood management. Unfortunately, in India, water bodies are rarely recorded under municipal laws. And little is known about them. Planners see only land, not water, and the builder lobby just encroaches on them. A study by the non-profit, Centre for Science and Environment, shows that Chennai, which faced devastating floods in 2015, had 600 water bodies in the 1980s; a master plan published in 2008 said only a fraction of the lakes in the city were in healthy condition.
All Indian states must conduct a detailed survey of their water bodies, which can serve as an insurance against floods. The Centre must incentivise these efforts by providing funds for water supply only to those states that have brought their water sources under protection. It is time for all stakeholders — governments, civil society, private sector, and citizens — to wake up to the emerging threats caused by such extreme events.