Urban Floods in India UPSC

Urban Floods in India , Why in News ? : An Article appeared in The  Hindu Newspaper named as “Time for a ‘sponge cities’ mission in India”

What is Urban Flood?

  • Flood is defined as “an overflow of a large body of water over areas not usually inundated”. Thus, flooding in urban areas is caused by intense and/or prolonged rainfall, which overwhelms the capacity of the drainage system.
  • Also coastal urban flooding is a complex phenomenon which may occur in various forms such as: urban flooding due to high intensity rainfall; due to inadequate drainage and flooding caused by overtopping in the channels or rivers; flooding due to high tides, etc.

Urban Floods in India : Some facts

  • India is highly vulnerable to floods.
  • A 2016 UN report estimated that 40 million people in India will be at risk from sea-level rise by 2050.
  • Out of the total geographical area of 329 million hectares (MHA), more than 10% is flood prone.
  • On an average every year, 75 lakh hectares of land is affected, 1600 lives were lost and the damage caused to crops, houses and public utilities is Rs.1805 crores due to floods.
  • Urban flooding is significantly different from rural flooding as urbanization leads to developed catchments, which increases the flood peaks from 1.8 to 8 times and flood volumes by up to 6 times.

list of urban floods in india

Some Important Urban Floods in India

  • There has been an increasing trend of urban flood disasters in India over the past several years whereby major cities in India have been severely affected.
  • The most notable amongst them are Hyderabad in 2000, Ahmedabad in 2001, Delhi in 2002 and 2003, Chennai in 2004, Mumbai in 2005, Surat in 2006, Kolkata in 2007, Jamshedpur in 2008, Delhi in 2009 and Guwahati and Delhi in 2010, Chennai in 2015, Bihar in 2019, Hyderabad in 2020
  • 2000 and 2020 – Hyderabad
  • 2001 – Ahmadabad
  • 2002, 2003, 2009, & 2010 – Delhi
  • 2004 & 2015 -Chennai
  • 2005 & 2017 -Mumbai
  • 2006-Surat
  • 2007-Kolkata
  • 2008- Jamshedpur
  • 2010-Guwahati
  • 2017-Bengaluru
  • 2019 – Bihar

causes of urban floods in india

Causes of Urban Floods
  • Improper Risk Assessment: Risk assessment has not been done properly by the concerned departments.
  • General cause : including a steep increase in population, rapid urbanization, growing developmental and economic activities in flood plains coupled with global warming
  • Shifting responsibility : Though the subject of flood control, unlike irrigation, does not figure as such in any of the three legislative lists included in the Constitution of India. The primary responsibility for flood control thus lies with the states.
  • Improper designing and implementation of drainages System: Storm water drainage systems in the past were designed for rainfall intensity of 12 – 20 mm. These capacities have been getting very easily overwhelmed whenever rainfall of higher intensity has been experienced.
  • Flood Plain Encroachments: Encroachments for rapid construction have led to the decrease in natural capacities of natural drains. This have led to the disturbance in the natural flow of the rivers, lakes, etc.
  • Lack of Community Participation: Flood control measures planned without participation of affected community are unsustainable as they do not meet the needs of relevant stakeholders.
  • Impact of Climate change  : Climate vagaries of the last two decades have exacerbated the problem of urban flooding.       More than one IPCC report has pointed to the climate vulnerability of coastal areas such as Mumbai and Chennai.
  • Lack of proper planning and implementation : Government programs without proper attention to climate vulnerability. For examples Such as technology-enabled initiatives — the Smart Cities Project, for example — have very little by way of bolstering climate adaptability.
    • Also, according to a 2018 report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, more than 55 percent of India’s smart cities are prone to floods.

Problems with flood management in India

  • Existence of Multiple agencies – Agencies which should be working together to keep the floods in check, have operated along different lines.
  • Constitutional ambiguity – between Centre and State Government
  • Lack of expertise at first line of force : Despite of instances of urban floods are on the rise but urban local bodies and state governments seem to be lacking in experience and resources in tackling them.
  • No Central Flood Management Institute – There is, however, no national or state level institution dealing with all facets of FM exclusively and in a holistic and comprehensive manner. Various Institutes and academic institutions deal with different aspects of water resources.

Who is affected ?

  • In any city, the low-lying regions like nallahs, railway lines, roads and highways — where squatter settlements pop-up — are the areas, which are most prone to flooding. This is typically the case in Delhi’s Yamuna Pushta area –  the same floodplain region where Akshardham and CWG Village have been built 
  • We do not realise yet that the vulnerability of the poor to the changing climate is profound and lingering in our cities. 
  • Flood waters circulate untreated solid waste and faecal matter around squatter settlements, which leads to outbreaks of malaria, dengue, diarrhoea, etc for a much longer time than the season of rainfall. There has been a 217 per cent increase in the incidence of malaria during the last decade, according to a report published by the World Bank. It identified unhygienic living conditions in slums and water accumulation during and after monsoons as the leading factors.
  • Lack of discernment in development adds to this vulnerability of the poor. During the 2015 Chennai floods, some of worst impacted areas were slum resettlement tenements constructed by the government.

Government initiatives

National Institutions/Agencies

  • National Disaster Management Authority: The Disaster Management Act, 2005 (DM Act,2005) lays down institutional, legal, financial and coordination mechanisms at the national, state, district and local levels.
  • National Executive Committee:  The National Executive Committee (NEC) comprises the secretary to the GOl in the ministry or department having administrative control. It is the executive committee of NDMA and is statutorily mandated to assist the Authority in the discharge of its functions.
  • National Disaster Response Force : The DM Act, 2005 has mandated the creation of a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
  • Central Water Commission: CWC is an apex agency in the field of water resources including flood management in India.

State-level Organisations

  • State Disaster Management Authority: At the state level, the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), headed by the chief minister will be established by the state governments to lay down policies and plans for DM in the state.
  • State Disaster Response Force

District Level

  • District Disaster Management Authority: DDMA headed by the District Magistrate, will act as the planning, coordinating and implementing body for DM and take all necessary measures for the purposes of DM in the district in accordance with the guidelines laid down by the NDMA and SDMA.
  • Local Authorities: PRIs and ULBs will ensure capacity building of their officers and employees in DM, carry out relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities in the affected areas and will prepare DM plans in consonance with the guidelines of the NDMA, SDMAs and DDMAs.

Way Forward

  • Broad based – Focus has to be on increasing the resilience of communities and adaptive capacity of our infrastructure.
  • Lack of water sensitive urban design and planning techniques — especially in the context of implementation — are of utmost importance. These methods take into consideration the topography, types of surfaces (pervious or impervious), natural drainage and leave very less impact on the environment. 
  • Climate Resilient Planning in flood management: In a changing climate, our proposed infrastructure (especially storm water drainage) has to be built considering the new ‘normals’. Tools such as predictive precipitation modelling can help do that and are also able to link it with the adaptive capacity of urban land use.
  • Most important is strong land use controls. EIAs and enforcement will remain vital to ensure that fragile wetlands and floodplains are not concretised.
  • Disabling spawning of squatter settlements in sensitive zones by providing adequate affordable housing will reduce number of persons vulnerable to changing climate.
  • Empowering Urban Local Bodies : All this means urban local bodies will continue to have a central role to play in cities’ battle with extreme weather events such as flooding and their overall resilience.
  • Mapping of the flood prone areas is a primary step involved in reducing the risk of the region.

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Dr. RS Aggarwal
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