Disasters like Houston’s a recurring nightmare in Mumbai

NEW DELHI (AP) — Two massive, rain-soaked cities on opposite sides of the world are struggling with swirling, brackish waters that have brought death and devastation. For Houston, it’s unprecedented. For Mumbai, it’s painfully common.

For India’s financial capital and other South Asian cities and farmlands, floods are regular, cataclysmic occurrences made worse by breakneck urban development and population booms that will only become more challenging as climate change increases disaster risk.

In the last two months, more than 1,000 people have been killed in flooding events across India, southern Nepal and northern Bangladesh. Some 40 million more have seen their homes, businesses or crops destroyed.

Mumbai was especially hard hit, with water swamping offices, schools and roads and about 60 people killed — 33 alone in Thursday’s collapse of a 117-year-old apartment building whose foundation had been weakened by the flooding.

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“The city was brought to its knees,” said Darryl D’Monte, a Mumbai-based environmentalist.

Such tragedies happen almost every year in South Asia. The amount of rain Hurricane Harvey dumped on Houston over the past week was unprecedented not only for the city but also for the continental U.S. Mumbai, however, experienced similar flooding just 12 years ago, and several major Indian cities have been inundated since then, including Kolkata in 2007, Hyderabad in 2008, Srinagar in 2014 and Chennai in 2015.

The death toll is often high, as it is this monsoon season, because of factors that include inadequate housing. In Mumbai alone, some 3 million people are crammed into low-lying slums and have few places to flee to when floods hit.

Experts say Indian officials are doing little to reduce the risks. Instead, they allow new construction, paving over floodplains, denuding forests and testing river banks.

Mumbai authorities have ignored plans to upgrade the city’s British-era drainage system, clear drains of plastic debris and install pumping stations and flood gates to get any floodwaters out, D’Monte said.

“In most cities, lakes, ponds and even wide-open spaces acted as sponges to absorb excess rainfall. These have all disappeared from our cities and towns as water bodies are filled up and buildings come up in their place,” said Chandra Bhushan of the Centre for Science and Environment, an environment think tank in…

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