And the city of Mumbai was hit by another major flooding espisode. Several people have died in the city, many in the collapse of a four-storey building that is believed to have been weakened by the rains.
Such loss of life in urban areas is often blamed on India’s overcrowding. Cities are growing at unprecedented rates. From a population of 2.86 million in 1950, Mumbai is now home to more than 21 million people, and is expected to have almost 28 million by 2030.
Built along the coastline on a series of islands, the city is surrounded by water: in mudflats, lakes, creeks, rivers, and the ever-present coastline.
Given the astronomical land prices in many parts of Mumbai, and the extreme scarcity of land, it is no surprise that Mumbai has sacrificed its ecology for development. Real estate projects, industry, and state infrastructure (railways, roads and the city’s airport) have built over, and choked, the city’s water networks at various strategic points. Every monsoon, the city floods.
Mudflats, wetlands, floodplains, mangroves and wooded vegetation once slowed down the flow of storm water. The mangrove’s complex root systems and the branching architecture of trees acted as a natural barrier to reduce the force of water flow. But now, they are built over. Garbage spread everywhere clogs the waterways. Most channels and waterways that connect water bodies have been built over too, resulting preventing streams from easily reaching the sea – forcing it to spread out into the low lying areas of the city, adding to the severe flooding.
Mumbai’s extensive wetlands and mudflats, which had connected parts of the city since the early 19th century, have disappeared. Their presence would retain the rain water and soak it into the ground, recharging the wells and ground water table.
Today, with nothing but concrete all around, the city’s land surface does not allow water to soak into it. In especially intense periods of rain, the devastation is extreme – at least 5000 people are believed to have perished in the infamous floods of 2005, and the economic damage was estimated at 30 billion rupees (US$690m).
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