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How Urban Flooding Affects Lives

July 27, 2023 10:18 IST

Year by year, our cities remain defeated in the face of weather conditions, costing us time, money, resources and often lives, observe Amit Kapoor and Bibek Debroy.

IMAGE: Parked vehicles submerged in Noida, July 26, 2023, due to the surge in the water level of the Hindon river. Photograph: ANI Photo

Urbanisation is not only a desired goal but an inevitable outcome. However, this process is not unilateral but intrinsically tied to evolving global contexts -- wars, climate change, epidemics and pandemics.

As urban areas expand in size and volume, the link with these factors, especially climate change, becomes more complex and intense, putting municipal administration to the test.

For instance, heavy rainfall translates into waterlogging, flooding the cities and bringing all administrative and essential services to a halt.

Urban India is plagued by frequent occurrences of waterlogging, further leading to an urban flood, with torrential and unanticipated rains almost always revealing the under-preparedness of city municipalities.

IMAGE: People make their way through a severely waterlogged road in Mumbai, July 21, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

The frequency and intensity of natural disasters have also risen due to the effects of climate change, exacerbating the unpredictable nature and intensity of rainfall, heat waves, floods, storms, droughts, and cyclones, and posing a serious threat to the food, water, and energy security of cities.

This is particularly true for Asia, where coastal cities are most prone to such disasters, severely impacting the coastal and marine environment, the agriculture and livestock sector and public health.

IMAGE: Minto Bridge in New Delhi, July 8, 2023, is shut to traffic after water logging. Photograph: ANI Photo

Unexpected and sudden climatic events affect both developed and developing countries, but the sensitivity and severity are significantly higher in the latter countries.

Numerous cities have experienced natural and man-made disasters in the past, leaving thousands of residents either buried under debris or washed away.

Even the financial strains caused by metropolitan catastrophes are unparalleled.

IMAGE: A vehicle wades through a waterlogged road at Kings Circle in north central Mumbai, July 20, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Due to the concentration of industrial and commercial activity in metropolitan areas, cities today play an important role in empowering societies.

Every time a calamity strikes an urban region, the surrounding area experiences significant and widespread human casualties as well as other negative effects.

This causes the city budget to be redirected from urban growth and development to early recovery and emergency response.

IMAGE: A suburban train runs slowly on a flooded track at the Sion railway station in north central Mumbai, July 21, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Specifically, transportation and mobility are the most basic functions of an area, but the most critical when it comes to economic activities.

Any disruption to it has the potential to cause the collapse of any socioeconomic machinery. And yet, year by year, our cities remain defeated in the face of weather conditions, costing us time, money, resources and often lives.

Additionally, urban drainage systems frequently fail as a result of the huge amounts of contaminated runoff that urban areas produce.

In such a scenario, even moderate rainfall has the potential to overwhelm urban drainage systems and cause flash floods in low-lying areas.

Cities, seen as engines of growth, directly disrupt natural systems as collateral damage.

IMAGE: Pedestrians try to cross a waterlogged road at Malakpet in Hyderabad, July 24, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Numerous coastal cities in Asia are susceptible to both urban and coastal flooding, while interior towns are at risk from flash floods, river flooding, or urban flooding.

Urban flooding is mostly brought on by human encroachment into active flood channels, inadequate flood management practices, a lack of flood early warning systems, and the discharge of solid waste in drainage systems in developing nations.

Furthermore, unplanned urban growth over precious natural resources is the most noticeable feature of cities in developing countries.

The poor are forced to construct housing on unlawful, hazardous land in risky areas.

It happens frequently in practically every megacity, when residents repeatedly encroach on flood-prone areas, narrowing the canal and lowering its carrying capacity.

These are some of the main causes of the severe flood damage that occurs in metropolitan areas.

IMAGE: People take shelter amid heavy rain near Ambedkar circle in Jaipur, July 26, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Remedying this situation depends on a multi-pronged approach targeted at making municipal machinery more efficient and flush with adequate funds while also driving action towards addressing climate change.

For instance, urban planning and architecture that is energy efficient can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, as a result, diminish the threat of global climate change, eventually resulting in reducing the effects of severe storms and flooding.

While numerous cities have taken action to increase resilience and address the mounting dangers associated with climate change through multilateral solidarity like the 100 Resilient Cities and the Global Covenant of Mayors, it is equally important to have citizen-led action plans that could also assist the municipal order of a city.

IMAGE: Students ride their bicycles through a waterlogged road in Jalandhar following heavy rainfall, July 24, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

Success can only be attained by a coordinated strategy and effort at the global, regional, national, and local levels. Therefore, making cities a vital component of combating climate change is imperative.

Using clean production methods, renewable energy sources, and laws or incentives to reduce industrial emissions, several communities are already making significant progress.

Reducing emissions can also lessen local industrial and transportation pollution, improving the air quality in cities and the health of those who live there.

Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India, and lecturer, USATMC, Stanford University; @kautiliya.
Bibek Debroy is chairman, Economic Advisory Council to Prime Minister of India; @bibekdebroy

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/

Amit Kapoor & Bibek Debroy
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