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Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods, superstorms

Last updated on: December 5, 2012 08:48 IST

Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods

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Port cities across Asia -- including Kolkata, Surat, Mumbai and Chennai -- are exposed to the threats of severe flooding and superstorms.

Ironically, these cities are not-so-well equipped to deal with such threats, raising the chances of greater destruction and loss in case of a natural calamity -- like superstorm Sandy that hit the coasts of United States in October.

A study on The Exposure of Port Cities to Flooding: A Comparative Global Analysis, which was financed by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, has identified 20 port cities which would be most exposed to coastal flooding by 2070.

Reportage: Syed Tashfin Chowdhury

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Image: Monsoon clouds gather over the Mumbai skyline
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods

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The cities were ranked in the order of their vulnerability to flooding.

Kolkata, Mumbai and Dhaka were the top three cities that were found to be the most disaster-prone when it came to flooding.

Other cities in the list were Guangzhou in China, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Shanghai in China, Bangkok in Thailand, Yangon in Myanmar, Miami in USA and Haiphong in Vietnam.

Other cities in the list include Alexandria in Egypt, Tianjin in China, Khulna in Bangladesh, Ningbo in China, Lagos in Nigeria, Abidjan in Ivory Coast, New York in USA, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Tokyo in Japan and Jakarta in Indonesia.

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Image: The Howrah Bridge in Kolkata
Photographs: Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

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Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods

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As many as 15 of the 20 cities in this list are located in Asia.

This global screening study makes an estimate of the exposure of the world's large port cities to coastal flooding because of storm surge and damage due to high winds.

It also investigates how climate change is likely to impact each port city's exposure to coastal flooding by 2070, alongside subsidence and population growth and urbanisation.

The study focuses on port cities across the world that have more than one million inhabitants.

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Image: Children play in the flooded water as rickshaw drivers wade down a street in a commercial area in Dhaka
Photographs: Andrew Biraj/Reuters

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Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods

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A recent report by news agency AFP quoted experts as saying that the blow dealt to New York by superstorm Sandy should raise the alarm for coastal mega-cities in Asia which are more exposed but less equipped to deal with such threats.

The AFP reported reasoned that while New York "was able to draw on top-level civil engineering, good governance and the world's richest economy as it faced a once-in-a-century event", this is "not the case for many cities that have risen, often anarchically, on a coastal arc from China to the Arabian Sea, luring millions in search of a better life."

"These cities are undergoing very rapid expansion and they are not only exposed to sea-level rise, they are also exposed to tropical cyclones," AFP quoted Bob Ward, director of policy at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in London, as saying.

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Image: An aerial view shows boats participating in a dragon boat race on the Suzhou river in Shanghai
Photographs: Aly Song/Reuters

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Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods

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"It is clear there isn't any urban planning going on, and they have a lot of poor people living in very low-quality housing who are going to be especially vulnerable and exposed," said Ward.

Susan Hanson, an expert in coastal engineering at Britain's Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, co-wrote the OECD-funded report.

She pointed out that factors like a rise in mean sea level, which according to the study's model will be around 50 centimetres by 2070 as warmer temperatures cause oceans to expand, will aggravate the situation.

Other factors include thrust, or wind-whipped storm surge, from cyclones, which also dump vast amounts of rain.

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Image: Thai oarsmen row a royal barge on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok
Photographs: Chaiwat Subprasom/Reuters

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Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods

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The AFP article also referred to the report by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which noted that a 50 cm rise in sea level would make much of Mumbai uninhabitable.

According to the OECD report, 1.9 million people in Mumbai were exposed to coastal flooding in 2005, a figure likely to rise to 14 million by 2070.

Ashvin Dayal, head of the Rockefeller Foundation in Asia, which supports a project to strengthen the region's climate defences, also told the AFP that awareness of the risks and good governance are key to diminishing the threat.

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Image: A couple prays at the beach under heavy rain in Miami Beach, Florida
Photographs: Carlos Barria/Reuters

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Mumbai, Kolkata MOST prone to floods

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She suggested that cities can respect flood plains, rebuild mangroves that are a natural shield against storm surge, improve planning to prevent dangerous sprawl and use better modelling to see how land is used.

Cities can also promote simple but effective techniques such as cementing the floors of a house, which means water can drain out after a flood with no damage to the building's structure.

"We have to move from a situation of looking for fail-safe solutions to a situation where you can also have safe failure," said Dayal to the AFP.

She concluded, "Things like this (superstorm Sandy) do jolt people and do make people sit up and take notice. We must just make sure they don't have short memories."

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Image: Egyptians crowd a public beach in Alexandria
Photographs: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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