Centre for Science and Environment has recommended strong laws to protect urban lakes, their catchment and feeder channels
Floods in urban areas will become more frequent, warns Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), if urban wetlands are not preserved along with better urban planning.
CSE conducted a workshop in association with All for Water for All, a Puducherry-based non-profit on the state of water bodies in southern India. “This is the right time for holding this workshop in Puducherry as this city along with Chennai has just experienced anepisode. Our assessment is that floods in Chennai were exacerbated by encroachment of water bodies and destruction of city’s natural drainage systems,” said Chandra Bhushan, CSE Deputy Director General.
Bhushan said four major issues were perceptible for increased urban flooding: bad urban planning, encroachment of water bodies, increase in extreme weather events and lack of preparedness. He added that increased rainfall intensity and urban flooding would become a norm rather than exception unless corrective measures were taken immediately. “We will have to protect our water bodies, and also be prepared for these events,” he said. Bhushan pointed out the cases of three recent flooding cases – Chennai, Mumbai and Leh – which received many times their monthly rainfall in a just a few hours.
A CSE publication "Why Urban India Floods" was released during the workshop by Bhushan, former member of the Planning Commission A Vaidyanathan, and Probir Banerjee from All for Water for All. Other participants at the workshop included Indumati Nambi from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, TV Ramachandra from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and Leo Saldhana, ESG, Bengaluru among others.
CSE’s expert on water Susmita Sengupta said since groundwater was not considered to be critical for water supply, recharge was neglected by urban planners as they valued land, not water. “There is no legal protection for city lakes, catchment and drainage systems. Water bodies and their catchment have been encroached upon or taken away for housing and other buildings,” said Sengupta.
CSE analysis shows that in South India, the loss of lakes had been widespread. In 1960, Bengaluru had 262 lakes, but today not even 10 lakes are in a healthy state. Hyderabad, too, is losing its water bodies. Between 1989 and 2001, 3,245 hectares (ha) of water bodies were lost, which is 10 times the size of Hussain Sagar, the major water body of the city.
Chennai’s flood sink–the Pallikarni marsh–which was around 5,000 ha at the time of independence got reduced to almost 600 ha around 2010-11 due to urbanisation and mismanagement. “The government’s own studies accept that the waterways in Chennai convey treated and untreated sewage and garbage together. These waterways, which are also the city’s flood discharge channels, are encroached and built upon as well, severely reducing their flow,” said Sengupta. CSE’s analysis shows that the areas which suffered the worst floods in Chennai were the areas where water bodies were encroached.
The non-profit has given recommendations to prevent frequent flooding in urban areas:
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