India: Urban flooding: The case of drowning cities and rising vulnerability

Down To Earth

by Mitashi Singh


The term urban flood is a misnomer. The problem of flooding in urban areas is not only due to overflowing rivers, but the uninformed way in which our cities are coping with urbanisation also plays a large role.


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 on floodplains or lake catchment areas at Semmencheri, Perumbakkam and Ezhilnagar. These areas faced severe flooding, causing some deaths and remained inhabitable for many days afterwards.


The Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) has identified 38 sensitive areas that are most prone to urban flooding. The district administration is pushing for several measures to improve water management including stringent building bylaws, enforcement and campaigning.


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. 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.


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