- The unpredicted spell of staggering rain over Chennai on December 30, 2021 reminds us of the risk of urban collapse due to extreme weather events.
Challenges of urban governance
- In spite of immense community support and active mobilisation for change, post catastrophic 2015 flood, Chennai and Mumbai witnessed change in laws just on paper.
Undermined role of local governments
- Though considerable importance is given to technological tools, private sector talent and mapping strategies to identify a city’s assets and to plan spatially, the central role for democratically-elected local governments is undermined.
- Neglect of municipal councils, lack of empowerment and failure to build capacity among municipal authorities have produced frequent urban paralysis in extreme weather.
- In Chennai, the focus after every flood has been on the storm water drain network, while commercial encroachments get insufficient attention.
- Fate of encroachments along Mumbai’s Mithi river is an example where the Mithi River Development and Protection Authority, after the 2005 flood, favoured removal of dwellings, while sparing ‘permanent structures’ that were too big to touch.
- Loose metropolitan boundaries with little control over neighbouring local governments produce unclear building regulations that lead to the problem in the management of wetlands, reservoirs, and watercourses.
- All dimensions of a city’s growth, starting with affordable housing, play a central role in adapting to future climate change. Hence following measures can be adopted
- A top-level department for climate change adaptation is best suited to serve as a unifier, bringing all relevant departments in a State, such as housing and urban development, transport, water supply, energy, land use, public works and irrigation.
- Prioritise ecological and sustainability concerns over aesthetics, and reject market-oriented ‘fantasy plans’.
- Lower carbon emissions growth even during infrastructure creation by using biophilic design and green materials.
- A comprehensive master urban plan for all the cities is needed.
- Urban development would be more sustainable and equitable if the guiding principle is climate change.
- Instead of flashy retrofitted ‘smart’ urban enclaves, focus should be on creating sound, functional metropolitan cities that can handle floods, heat waves, pollution and mass mobility to keep the engines of the economy running.