Urban flooding events will happen frequently due to climate change, warns CSE. Better urban planning alongwith conservation of urban lakes and wetlands necessary to prevent and manage flooding

  • CSE holds workshop on protection of urban lakes and wetlands in Puducherry 

  • CSE publication ‘Why Urban India Floods’ released. The publication documents the mismanagement of urban lakes and wetlands in various cities and its consequent implications on urban flooding 

  • Global warming is incresing the frequency and intensity of extreme rainfall events. Destruction of water bodies and choking of natural drainage by indiscriminate construction and garbage dumps main causes of flooding in Chennai

  • CSE recommends legal protection of water bodies and revival of natural natural drainage. Also recommends linking of central government financial assistance to cities with city’s initiative in protecting its water bodies and water resources

Puducherry, February 28: Calling for protection of lakes and natural bodies, that are disappearing because of rapid urbanisation, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), has proposed a framework legislation for conservation and protection of wetlands. CSE, a New Delhi-based think-tank, organised a workshop with All for Water for All, a Puducherry-based NGO, on the issue – The state of lakes and waterbodies of Southern India – threats, challenges and opportunities. The event brought policy-makers, NGOs, activists and media persons from South India to discuss the situation in this part of the country.

“This is the right time for holding this workshop in Puducherry as this city along with Chennai has just experienced an extreme flood episode. 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.

Dwelling on the issue of climate change which is the reason for increased intensity of rainfall, Bhushan said four major issues were perceptible: bad urban planning, encroachment of water bodies, increase in extreme weather events and lack of preparedness. Bhushan said 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 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 Dr. Indumati Nambi from Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, Dr. TV Ramachandra from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and Leo Saldhana, ESG, Bengaluru among others.

Problem analysis
An analysis, shared by Susmita Sengupta, CSE’s expert on water, 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. Waterbodies 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 waterbodies. Between 1989 and 2001, 3,245 hectares (ha) of waterbodies were lost, which is 10 times the size of Hussain Sagar, the major waterbody of the city.

Chennai’s flood sink – the Pallikarni marsh – which was around 5,000 hectares (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. 

CSE recommends

  • There is a need of strong laws to protect urban lakes, or people will be forced to go to the court to identify and protect the waterbodies

  • Protection of lakes is just half the story – the catchment and feeder channels should be protected too. This is because the real challenge lies in filling up the waterbodies with clean water

  • Urban planning should be integrated with the study of the geology and the hydrogeology of the area so that new developments are not at the cost of the lakes and wetlands. Policy-makers should also revisit the development projects to see that they do not interfere with the hydrogeological cycles

  • There should be an umbrella authority to protect and conserve the waterbodies

  • The Central government should provide funds for water supply to only those cities that have brought their own water sources under protection. The cities must show they have optimised local water potential before claiming access to water from far away sources. The city can invest the saved money in treating sewage which pollutes the lakes and ponds in the first place. 

For further information, please contact Anupam Srivastava, asrivastava@cseindia.org