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Insights into Editorial: Planning for the Next Flood + Mindmaps on Current Issues

Insights into Editorial: Planning for the Next Flood + Mindmaps on Current Issues


20 November 2015


Record amounts of rain have hit Chennai and other parts of northern Tamil Nadu. A low-pressure area over the Bay of Bengal has meant that Tamil Nadu, coastal Andhra Pradesh and parts of Sri Lanka have been battered by rainfall.

  • Data show that Cyclonic storms are not new to Tamil Nadu. Given its geographical position, one or the other disaster is reported, at least once in two years in the state. Chennai has experienced particularly heavy rains roughly once every 10 years – 1969, 1976, 1985, 1996, 1998, 2005, 2015.
  • However, during every such disaster, all claims of preparedness by the government are invariably exposed as either hollow or woefully inadequate.
  • After every disaster, the main focus of the government will solely be on rescue and relief operations.
  • Governments fail to reconsider the policy of civic planning, especially the tendency to place real estate and commercial interests above those of nature and ecology.
  • The latest disaster to hit Tamil Nadu was not a cyclone, yet it highlighted the inadequate level of preparedness.
  • The inundation in Chennai and its neighbouring districts exposed all the flaws in its urban planning, housing and real estate policy and water management.

Among the reasons being given for the flooding in Chennai is the volume of rainfall: during the first 24 hours of heavy rain, Chennai received 246.5 mm rainfall, breaking the record of November 2005 which saw 142.4 mm. The highest rainfall during the north-east monsoon was in November 1976, when the city recorded a rainfall of 452.4 mm.

Other reasons for flooding:

  • Poor drainage systems in the cities.
  • The problem of urban waste clogging drains.
  • Widespread encroachments that have whittled down the carrying capacity of many water channels.
  • Poor water management practices.
  • The state’s failure to create proper storage, systems or infrastructure to save the water.
  • Unchecked real estate problems.

What should be done to prevent such disasters?

  • Governments have to think ahead and attack the roots of such problems.
  • Make way for the development natural lakes and inter-linked drainage systems that help replenish groundwater, hold back some water and release the excess water into the ocean.
  • Rampant construction of buildings on water bodies, wetlands and areas that were originally floodplains should be prevented.
  • Pre-monsoon desilting of drains and water channels should be undertaken.
  • Large cities need an intricate drainage system to match its burgeoning development.
  • With the cities’ municipal limits expanded in recent years to take in dozens of smaller villages and townships, civic infrastructure in the added areas should also be significantly enhanced.
  • Governments must also revisit present policy priorities.
  • Disaster management authorities, like NDMA, should try to get ahead of the curve and anticipate problems. They must begin to build scenarios for future such events so that state governments have templates on which to try and restructure towns.

The 2015 disaster was not just avoidable; it was a direct consequence of decisions pushed for by vested interests and conceded by town planners, bureaucrats and politicians in the face of wiser counsel. The nature has given enough warnings. It is high time for the state administrations to wake up and learn some lessons from neighbouring countries like Singapore on water management.


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