Chennai floods…how many more till we learn any lessons?

The way India’s top cities keep going under due to natural disasters is not even a joke anymore. Some like Bangalore do not even a natural disaster!

This time it is the turn of Chennai which is under some serious trouble. What is worse is it took the media so much time to report on the event. All this trouble started in Diwali week and barring some usual news coverage was hardly given any importance. Every time the story is the same – manipulation of natural water bodies for real estate gains:

This disaster has happened as urban planners have given scant regard to hydrological data, which should be the basis while drawing up plans for any functional city. Water bodies have been encroached on, ponds and lakebeds have been converted to residential townships and unauthorised buildings have sprung up all over the city. Chennai had 150 water bodies; now only 27 exist. Add to these a badly planned storm water drainage system that was built in isolation rather than as a network. This is the perfect recipe for disaster. We have indeed gone too far in tampering with nature.

As in the aftermath of any man-made disaster, we will likely see a flurry of activity among civic officials, government agencies and town planning authorities who will come out with grandiose schemes to prevent a repeat of the flooding being witnessed now. What the city needs is not rhetoric, but a scientific and practical solution based on the experience of other cities with lowlands, which have dealt with much more rainfall than Chennai has. The least civic body and town planners can do is make the city liveable before they draw up plans to make it ‘smart’.

This is something this blog has been saying for a while. Leave smart, first get the basics right.

EPW edit piece says we have been ignoring hydrology lessons for long. Newly constructed Delhi airport goes under water each time there are rains. It adds that one of the places near Chennai (Ponneri) which received more rainfall actually remained safe. And this place is going to be converted into a smart city!

As a warning of sorts to town planners who are making grand plans for smart cities, Ponneri, a town near Chennai which is to be turned into one such city, received 370 mm rainfall the same weekend when Chennai went under water. That was some 130 mm more than Chennai. Ponneri is a little less than 40 km to the north of Chennai. Still relatively underdeveloped, it escaped with much less damage. But have those holding smart city placards learnt any lessons?

Does not get more ironical than this..

The difference between hype and reality over Indian growth story is growing with each such disaster. We have to balance development with environment. We are getting crazy examples everywhere. Places where there should be water (like rivers, lakes etc) are getting drier/dirtier whereas those placesw chich should be dry have water everywhere..

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