Wednesday, February 28, 2024
India News

Stormy Monday in Chennai: Why are our cities so flood-prone?

Cyclone Michaung has brought India’s fourth largest city, Chennai, to its knees. Its recent efforts to prepare for such extreme weather events have been found to be wanting. Mint explains why the city, which prides itself as an ideal investment destination, needs to do a lot more.

How hard did Cyclone Michaung hit Chennai?

The slow-moving cyclone dumped an unprecedented 43 cm of rain in just 35 hours leading to massive flooding across the city. This caused a major power outage which lasted more than 36 hours and it disrupted telecom services, including the internet. Thousands of residents were evacuated by boat while many more struggled without food or drinking water. Eight people have died. Chennai airport, one of India’s busiest, was shut down due to water-logging on Monday and all incoming flights were diverted to other nearby airports. Scores of train services were cancelled. Arterial highways were cut off too.

What was the economic impact?

It is expected to be severe. Many industrial estates in and around the city have been flooded and its impact will be known in the coming days. The automobile and electronics cluster of Sriperumbudur and Oragadam—home to Hyundai, Daimler, Renault-Nissan, Foxconn and many other global majors—had to shut operations on Monday and operated with skeletal staff on Tuesday. With airports shut, trains cancelled and roads flooded, economic activity came to a halt for two days. Chennai’s famed IT-hub is still under water. Experts fear economic loss could run into hundreds of crores of rupees.


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Have things returned to normal?

Not yet. Almost 36 hours after the last drop of rain, parts of the city are still flooded and without power. While the administration has been working on a war footing, such is the scale of damage that it is taking frustratingly long to restore normalcy. Airports resumed operations on Tuesday and train services too have begun but most industrial estates are yet to resume work.

Why is Chennai so unprepared?

Compared to earlier years, Chennai was theoretically better prepared as it had built a network of storm water drains (at a cost of 4,000 crore). But due to the poor quality of construction and the massive amount of rain that Chennai received, it failed to evacuate the water in many parts of the city. Rampant encroachment and choking of water bodies, especially in the southern outskirts, is another reason for the present crisis. Simply put, the city is paying the price of unplanned development.

What more should Chennai do?

Not just Chennai but all Indian cities that are prone to extreme weather events need to be better prepared. They include Bengaluru, National Capital Region and Mumbai. All of these cities had faced extreme weather events recently. As per the World Meteorological Organization, India lost $4.2 billion in 2022 to climate disasters, pointing to the need for a disaster mitigation plan. If such a plan is not put in place soon, not just Chennai but the entire nation’s claim of being an ideal investment destination will be questioned.

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