Saving Our Cities : Overcoming Urban Flooding Through Community Efforts

On a cloudy Thursday morning, 42 year old Mr. Nayak (name changed) began his journey from his home to his office in Mumbai. The meteorological agencies had been forecasting heavy rainfall since early week. According to the forecast, heavy rainfall was to coincide with a high tide situation. Little did he know that ignoring the warnings would make him a victim of urban flood. He was stuck in traffic for 7 hours due to extremely heavy rainfall. On the same day, it was reported that a person went missing in flood waters. Of late, urban flood has become a pertinent issue in cities across the world. 

Urban flood is caused by three main factors – meteorological, hydrological and human. Meteorological factors include heavy rainfall, cyclonic storms and thunderstorms; hydrological factors include presence or absence of overbank flow channel networks and occurrence of high tides impeding the drainage.
Human activities such as - land use changes, surface sealing due to urbanization which increases runoff, occupation of flood plains which obstructs natural flow, lack of drainage, sudden release of water from dams located upstream of citizen towns, the failure to release water from dams resulting in backwater effect, the indiscriminate disposal of solid waste into urban water drains and channels creating an impediment to water flow during the monsoon season - majorly contribute to urban flooding. 

Concrete jungles, as urban areas are sometimes referred to, have little open soil to enable underground water replenishment. High intensity rainfall can lead to urban flooding in a matter of minutes especially when the city sewage system and draining canals do not have the necessary capacity to drain the amount of rain water falling. Rainwater may even enter the sewage system from one place and then overflow somewhere else in the city. 

Effects of an urban flood and prevention efforts by the community  

Floods disrupt the day to day activities in cities. Even when the flood waters recede, they leave behind an increased chance of disease outbreak such as malaria, cholera, dengue (and now COVID-19) etc.  

In this regard, the role of the community is critical to spread awareness about the possible disaster in their area. Community engagement programs, workshops, awareness generation activities, technical audits etc., help in improving capacity building of communities. Preparation and prevention tips shared via different communication channels such as radio, television, print and social media and making children aware of the impacts of urban flooding at school via syllabus, safety drills etc., also contribute to making a flood-resilient community.

Resident Welfare Association meetings, Basti Committees, Self Help Groups, youth clubs, NGOs and other social-cultural organisations which focus on safety during disasters, help in sharing valuable information and persuading individuals to take up the responsibility of proper waste disposal and effective water management. 
The occurrence and impact of urban floods can be reduced with a systematic approach. Though much is needed to tackle the issues related to governance and enforcement, such, at the community level, each city dweller can do his/her bit. 

What is the role of an individual?

The first step while combating any disaster is to ensure that one is aware and prepared for that disaster. To prevent an area from urban flooding, it is important to not litter waste, plastic bags, plastic bottles in drains. One may also cover their assets against natural disasters. Keep an eye on weather updates - especially during the rainy season-  from verified sources and if possible disseminate the same within your community.

One must obey orders by the authorities and shift to a safer place when asked to do so. If at home, switch off the electrical supply. Don't touch open wires. Simple measures such as installing the gas connection, water heater and electric panels high above the ground can go a long way in reducing damage. Most importantly, don't get carried away by rumours.

Facing an urban flood can be both mentally and physically exhausting. Post-urban flood care is as necessary as pre-urban flood preparation. For this purpose and to prevent oneself from getting ill, sprinkle insecticides in the water ponds/stagnant water to prevent breeding of mosquitoes, drinking chlorinated or boiled water is important along with eating clean and safe food. 

While there are still challenges pertaining to mitigation of urban floods; technological advancement, infrastructural improvements along with the combined and consistent effort by urban local bodies, communities and individuals can help in successfully overcoming the threat of urban floods. 

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