Looking at the horrific images of the deluge in Houston and, closer home, in Mumbai and Bengaluru, one can only pray it does not happen in one’s own city. However, looking around, it appears that a similar predicament is simply waiting to happen. Just as in Mumbai, most cities have altered the natural topography and water channels to such an extent that a minor rain is enough to cause water-logging. Bengaluru, old-timers recall, would be perpetually drenched all year round. However, the rainwater would completely drain away. Today, the story is vastly different.
Delhi may well thank its stars for being away from the sea and ocean and hence, safe from any hurricanes or cyclones that are a bane in the coastal areas. High-tides off Mumbai coast and Hurricane Harvey that battered Texas are mercifully out of Delhi’s radar. However, unpredictable weather, unseasonal and heavy rains ~ thanks to climate change ~ can occur anywhere. A case in point is the cloudburst that set off the Kedarnath deluge. In such an eventuality, are any of our cities geared to meet floods? A capital no is the answer.
Delhi has undergone a drastic change with rapid infrastructure development. True, it is needed for a decent life in the city. But most of the city’s waterbodies have disappeared, trees axed to make way for roads and buildings, natural rainwater drainage plugged and the air and river loaded with foul effluents. No matter how much the Municipal authorities do to keep the drains clear, an unprecedented downpour, let alone cloudbursts, can throw life out of gear.
Mumbai has not learnt from past deluges. Authorities know where the problem lies yet have done nothing to improve matters. But is there a lesson for Delhi as well? Can the authorities hypothetically create a similar situation and ensure the citizens are safe from floods?