In conversation with Shri G.V.V. Sarma on urban floods

With floods in cities increasingly becoming a menace globally, Aapda Samvaad spoke with Shri G.V.V. Sarma, Member Secretary, NDMA to better understand the nuances of urban flooding and how NDMA is working towards mitigating the same.

Is it possible to foresee an urban flood, if yes, what is the methodology behind it?

Ans: Use of an efficient early warning system in urban areas is very much possible. The components in this regard are local networks for real time rainfall data, Doppler Weather Radars being deployed by India Meteorological Department, Data sharing by all concerned agencies, decision support systems at the level of the urban local body with appropriate resolution. NDMA has been supporting Assam State Disaster Management Authority with technical partnership of The Energy Research Institute (TERI) to develop a decision support system for Guwahati Municipal Corporation. National and State Disaster Mitigation Funds will provide financial mechanisms to support good field initiatives.

What are the major lessons learnt from recent instances of urban floods? 

Ans: The first and foremost is the need to take up earnest measures to prevent clogging of drainage channels, whether it is done through irregular construction or encroachment or by any other means. Solid waste management is crucial. The importance of protection of lakes and water-bodies cannot be overemphasized. While all the law enforcement agencies need to be re-trained and re-oriented towards strict application of the techno-legal regime, it is necessary that the urban local body is equipped with the necessary decision support system, including deployment of pump-sets of required capacities in sufficient numbers at the locations identified well in advance. Identification of flood shelters need to be planned for carrying out evacuation measures if needed, Timely dissemination of alert messages and communication of do's and don'ts to the members of the public are very important. It is also seen that conduct of mock exercises involving all disaster response agencies and communities would be of great help.

What is the main challenge of urban floods and how is NDMA overcoming them? 

Ans: Mainstreaming disaster risk reduction into development is the main challenge of all Ministries of Government of India and of the State Governments. Towards this direction, NDMA has been supporting the concerned Ministries to have a holistic disaster management plan. The National Disaster Management Plan, 2019 brought out by NDMA provides the necessary framework based on which the Ministries and State Governments can prepare their Disaster Management Plans. Coordination with scientific early warning organisations and State Disaster Management Authorities/ State Disaster Management Departments is one important area in which NDMA has been involved. 

What are the major infrastructural improvements that should be brought about in urban planning at various levels to reduce urban flooding risk? 

Ans: Hazard risk and vulnerability assessment, specific measures to reduce vulnerability, spatial decision support systems, ward level flood risk reduction are some of the key areas that need to be taken care in urban planning, along with necessary enforcement measures including land use regulations. 

In your opinion, what are the emerging technological trends in the mitigation and prevention process of urban floods? 

Ans: Proper design and efficient management of urban drainage systems is the most important component of the overall framework of mitigation. Inventory of storm water drainage systems on the GIS platform will help the Urban Local Body to take up timely measures.  Early warning alert dissemination is also extremely important. 

Do you think urban floods as a threat can be completely eliminated, if yes, then how? 

Ans: A number of concerted measures, including proper management of solid waste, upkeep of  drainage channels, pre-monsoon de-silting of all drains, rigorous enforcement of land use and building regulations, rain water harvesting, incorporation of vulnerability and risk assessment maps into urban planning, will help in meeting the challenge of urban floods.

What can individuals and local communities do to reduce the impact of urban floods? 

Ans: Community level participation can help in better planning well before the flood season, with a range of activities including proper identification of hotspots, taking adequate care of vulnerable population, helping in timely dissemination of alert messages, voluntary cooperation in remaining safe and indoors during the floods and playing most important role as community first responders. While expert forces such as the National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Response Forces and Fire and Emergency Services play their valuable role during response; the community first responders can provide great support in saving lives and reducing property losses during the crucial time before the arrival of specialized agencies

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