‘Billionaires in boats’ — if you were to read this phrase on any given day, it would conjure images of the super rich lounging around on their opulent superyachts, most probably in one of many salubrious Mediterranean ports and enjoying the good life. How fortunate, some would say.
But this same phrase has come to signify a wholly different scenario, shocking and unprecedented, in the south of India.
These ‘billionaires in boats’, who made headlines in the past few days are the ultra-rich, living in some of the most high-end localities in rain-battered Bengaluru. They were evacuated from their mansions and villas in inflatable boats and old-style tractors. Flood water, following hours of heavy rainfall, made its way into their houses and reached knee-deep level on the first floor, rendering their luxury cars nugatory. Some of these automobiles could even be seen bobbing around in the floodwaters, prompting some rescuers to mull over which could be salvaged and which will head to the scrapyard.
This situation, although unprecedented owing to the posh localities it impacted severely, has seen itself repeated in other areas of the Silicon Valley of India over the past few years. One of the main reasons that the rest of Bengaluru used to flood every time it rained heavily was that the stormwater drains that are spread across the megapolis are decayed, old and lack carrying capacity. Even 5-10 cm of rainfall is enough to have the drains brimming.
Other possible causes behind the frequent flooding are:
1. Encroachment of drains and dumping of solid and construction waste, leading to loss of interconnectivity among lakes
2. De-notifying lakes under the guise of ‘dead lakes’, when the fact is no lake can be ‘dead’ as it recharges groundwater
3. Flood plains and wetlands being encroached upon
4. Increase in pavements across the city (expected to reach 94% of city area this year)
5. Irresponsible, unplanned urbanisation
To add to all this, the vegetation cover has depleted from 68% in 1973 to just about 3% in 2020. The double whammy of encroachments and heavy construction in low-lying areas has exacerbated the situation further.
It is a story which has repeated itself over the past few years, in city after city across India. And this summer, even the orderly First World countries were not spared, with scenes of flooding coming in from Sydney in Australia to California in the US. Europe and the UK did not fare any better, with both regions hit by flash floods after a record-breaking heatwave.
Middle-class residential areas in India and other parts of South Asia have, through experience of heavy rains and flash floods, steeled themselves up to face sudden, drastic weather events. But these climate change-induced floods, leaving high-end localities bereft of drinking water and electricity, show that extreme weather does not differentiate between the loaded and those living in vulnerable areas.
So, what can be done to avoid a repeat of such events? Some of the steps that can be taken immediately in Bengaluru are as below (original text: thebetterindia.com):
1. Road audit for drainage: A road audit for drainage is crucial. All roads must have stormwater drains on adjacent sides and these drains should be networked. Today, most drains simply stop at a dead end. Ideally, they should be designed in a hierarchy and empty into a lake or a river
2. Protect stormwater channels: Stormwater channels should not be allowed to be encroached upon and should be lined with concrete. Authorities now need to acquire land for stormwater drains, like they do when building a metro station or a road. These drains should be designed in such a way as to withstand climate change rainfall events
3. Improve prediction skills: The Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre has 99 automatic weather stations in Bengaluru. This is the largest density of weather stations for any city in India. There is a need to improve their predictive powers to a minimum of three days in advance and ensure that this information is acted upon as soon as possible. More investment in the modelling process and improving the automatic weather stations is necessary
4. Rainwater harvesting: This is the need of the hour. As much as possible, rainwater should be collected and used to recharge a city’s aquifers. An attempt should be made to design plots, apartments and gated communities as zero rainfall discharge areas. The idea is to hold onto the rain and ensure its positive use rather than letting it run about and flood the place. For instance, the rainwater harvesting by-law in Bengaluru states that for every square metre of roof area, you have to create a storage or recharge of 60 litres of water. For every square metre of paved area around a building, you must create a storage or recharge of 30 litres of water
5. Invest rapidly in sewage networks: Functioning sewage networks are essential, so is ensuring that all sewage is picked up and sent to sewage treatment plants
It may be that these steps are being suggested to ameliorate the flood situation and to avoid its repeat in Bengaluru but they can be applied easily, with a few tweaks and alterations, across India.
There is no denying that Bengaluru has witnessed torrential rains. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), the city recorded 13.16 cm (131.6 mm) of rainfall, most of which fell in less than 12 hours on the night of Sunday, September 4. This was the third heaviest rainfall the city has witnessed in September in the past 75 years.
At the same time, the unimpeachable fact is that the current state of this once salubrious city — located at an altitude of 920 metres — is also attributable to myopic policy decisions, excessive land grab and unauthorised concretisation of the landscape. In that sense, this is a man-made disaster and unless we are willing to learn from it and take speedy corrective measures, other megapolises, cities and towns across India should be ready to deal with a similar state of affairs, year after year.
Source: The Better India