Hyderabad has been deluged this week, with meteorologists saying it saw the highest 24-hour rainfall seen in October since 1891. Numbers like this seem to license government spokespersons to blame all the damage on nature (while praising the rescue efforts of Good Samaritans, NDRF, army and state police). This is eyewash. From the systematic erosion of the storage capacity of water bodies which breach their bunds and drown urban sprawls in their flow, to the failure to expand drainage systems for the requirements of a much expanded population, a lot of the blame lies directly at the doorstep of city planners and administrators.
Remembering how after the devastating floods of 1908 not only did Hyderabad get a modern system of drainage, but the Osmansagar and Himayathsagar reservoirs were also set up to act as flood control centres, experts rue how today’s ‘global city’ lacks the far-sighted and efficient planners who were available back then. This sentiment is buttressed by the extent to which these two reservoirs still remain the beating heart of the city, albeit much encroached, polluted and sick.
The worst flooding in a century – this is a refrain we hear with increasing frequency, whether it is Chennai one year, Bengaluru another, NCR or Mumbai next. This is the undeniable, unfortunate reality of climate change, with India having high vulnerability. A UN report released Tuesday ranks India third highest, after China and the US, in the number of natural disasters recorded since 2000. Increase in the frequency of extreme weather events will only increase their economic and human costs – unless we make mitigation a high priority.
Just providing relief and rehabilitation after every disaster will not suffice. Mangroves will have to be revived, millennia old drainage pathways will have to be unchoked, modern waste management activated. Such high level engineering challenges will also have to take on board the most grassroots stakeholders. All this is a formidable task, yet it must be done as it’s an existential necessity. It’s here that even more Indians will look to live and work in the future. But cities that crumble at every flood and do not build new equations with nature will get short shrift from investments, economic growth and prosperity.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.