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Why Hyderabad floods? 

Why Hyderabad floods? 
Highlights

The unprecedented rains and the flood havoc thus created in Hyderabad raises fundamental questions on the way we built our city, the way we planned our city. ‘Why Hyderabad floods?’ is the question everyone is asking today. 

The unprecedented rains and the flood havoc thus created in Hyderabad raises fundamental questions on the way we built our city, the way we planned our city. ‘Why Hyderabad floods?’ is the question everyone is asking today.

There cannot be rain without water. But, why should rain water lead to floods. Is it because the rain was so heavy? True to some extent. Extreme weather events triggered by climate change are causing unprecedented concentration of precipitation. It means too much rain in too little time. Still, the city need not flood. The fundamental reason for rain water inundating roads and houses is essentially the blocking of natural discharge of water.

The art of drainage is thrown to the winds as politician-builder -bureaucrat nexus rules the city. Illegal encroachments thrive due to political support and official nexus. The populist politics and the collapse of welfare State in providing reasonable housing at an affordable cost are all responsible for this pathetic state of affairs. More strikingly as Chief Minister himself wondered even government buildings have come up on storm water drains.

Water bodies in urban sprawl are the most endangered species due to skyrocketing land prices. Some of these tanks have totally disappeared while in other cases, the contours have altered beyond recognition. The city of lakes has now turned into a city of encroachments. When natural flow of water is obstructed, the urban flooding is rather inevitable. The strict restoration and conservation of water bodies is the solution to the problems of depleting groundwater levels, growing water scarcity and urban flooding.

Even timely desiltation would at least mitigate the problem of floods. Financially disempowered civic body finds it difficult to completely modernise drainage and sewerage systems increasing the vulnerability of Hyderabad to floods.

The municipal authorities started dismantling structures on nalas to prevent clogging of drains. But, this can only be a temporary measure as the nexus that created these blocking structures would make them come back with vengeance. In fact, the government should immediately carry out a detailed survey of water bodies in Hyderabad and ensure their legal protection and enforcement.

But, this restoration of water bodies should be taken up with a human angle. All those who encroached them are not the mafia. Many have done so out of their economic deprivation. The middle class people are the victims of real estate mafia and the slumbering officialdom. The rehabilitation of the poor and the middle class is also critical for the conservation of water bodies in the city. The eviction of encroachers should not have a class bias. While the mighty escapes, the poor suffers.

The flows of water into the tanks are obstructed while the sewerage freely flows into the water bodies. Instead, the waste water can be recycled .This would prevent pollution of water bodies and additional water will be available for use. Managing water economy is, therefore, integral to the flood management effort.

In fact, if all the lakes are restored, Hyderabad perhaps does not need Krishna and Godavari. It would substantially reduce the cost of water supply. A 2016 report of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the State of India’s urban Water Bodies, estimates that in the last 12 years, Hyderabad has lost 3,245 ha of its wet lands. Rapid urbanisation is significantly altering the natural water courses and watersheds.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) states that concretisation of cities is an important factor contributing to urban flooding. Not just the water bodies, even open spaces, green cover is rapidly shrinking within and around Hyderabad. The lush green spaces are fast becoming concrete jungles. The names of many places in Hyderabad tell us the sad story of changing land use patterns. Basheerbagh, Zambagh, Bagh Amberpet, Bagh Lingampally etc., are a few such examples of how gardens transformed into concrete jungles.

Not just, water bodies, drains, even the basic civic infrastructure like roads, lung spaces, play grounds, drinking water supply lines, etc., do not meet the growing needs. Haphazard urban growth simply overwhelms the existing infrastructure. Hyderabad urgently needs a massive public investment to radically reconstruct its civic facilities. The quality of construction of these public works is yet another major concern as official-contractor nexus results in lousy quality seriously undermining city’s capacity to withstand. Satellite cities with efficient connectivity are the need of the hour.

The first recorded floods in Hyderabad occurred in 1908. Historical accounts state that around 15,000 perished in this disaster. It’s a very high figure given the sparse population existing at that time. The Chief Minister was right when he said the loss of life was averted in the city. But, terrible inconvenience could not be forestalled. Even the economic loss needs to be assessed. Why should the people of Hyderabad suffer when cities in the developed countries could successfully prevent or mitigate such disasters? This question urgently demands official response rather than belittling the suffering to cover up for the official lapses.

The CSE report estimates that Hyderabad lost 404 water bodies, which worked as sponges during floods, between 1982 and 2012. The Telangana movement cited this as an illustration of ‘alien’ rule. Though this Government of Telangana cannot be accused of complicity in this unprecedented ecological destruction in Hyderabad, it cannot totally escape the ire of people for long.

The government has to come out with a perspective plan on prevention of urban floods. Water bodies cannot be a luxury. They are critical for human survival. Water bodies act as flood deterrents. They help in recharging the ground water. They provide a fascinating urbanscape in the city of pearls. They offer recreation and avenues for leisure spending. They offer a health break from the daily routine.

They conserve biodiversity. Can there be anything more important than conservation of water bodies? We destroy the local water bodies and struggle to bring water to Hyderabad from distant places depriving the neighbouring districts of their rightful share.

The CSE report has further estimated that Hussainsagar shrank by 40 per cent in the last three decades. The plans to restore Hussainsagar are in limbo. The political idiosyncrasies often result in resurfacing of restoration plans of this centuries-old lake that became a symbol of Hyderabad. The lake no longer holds the rain run-off water but instead is converted into mega sewerage tank. The fate of many other lakes like Kapra Cheruvu, Saroornagar Cheruvu , Durgam Cheruvu etc., is no different though there may be some variation but the path to disaster is the same.

The NDMA guidelines have to be scrupulously followed to prevent Hyderabad floods. Real-time hydro-meteorological data has to be maximised to facilitate early warning and communication. This data has to be effectively shared among various agencies that deal with the problem of flooding and its consequences to ensure proper coordination. State-of-the-art automatic water level recorders must be installed throughout the drainage network of the watershed, which may sometimes extend beyond the administrative boundary of the Hyderabad civic body.

A customised urban flooding framework has to be evolved. An inventory of the existing stormwater drainage system on a GIS platform should be reassessed. Pre-monsoon desilting of all major drains should be completed by March 31 each year. Besides the pre-monsoon de-silting of drains, the periodicity of cleaning drains should be worked out, based on the local conditions.

The roster of cleaning of such drains should be worked out and strictly followed. All waste removed both from the major and the minor drains should not be allowed to remain outside the drain for drying, instead the wet silt should be deposited into a seamless container and transported as soon as it is taken out from the drain.

Ageing systems should be replaced on an urgent basis. A master plan should be prepared to improve the coverage of the sewerage system. Sewage must not be discharged into stormwater drains. All future road and rail bridges in cities crossing drains should be designed such that they do not block the flows resulting in backwater effect.

All road re-leveling works or strengthening/overlay works should be carried out by milling the existing layers of the road and recycling of materials obtained as a result of the milling so that the road levels will be not be allowed to increase. Inlets should be provided on the roads to drain water to the roadside drains and these should be designed based on current national and international practices.

Every building in an urban area should have rainwater harvesting as an integral component of the building utility.Integrated planning and co-ordination should be ensured to take into account all components of the urban water systems. The city disaster management plan should be revisited and customised keeping in view the recent experience of floods.

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