Showing posts with label Flood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Flood. Show all posts

July 26, 2018

Act now to spur urban climate resilience

Like most cities in India, Bhubaneswar is being driven to its knees due to extreme rainfall and intolerable temperatures, underscoring the urgent need for climate-smart urban planning 

After intense overnight showers, Bhubaneswar woke up on Saturday, July 21, morning with half the city under water. The situation at the capital of the eastern state of Odisha in many ways typifies poor urban management in India that is crumbling under adverse climatic conditions.

Residents in many parts of the city were stranded in their homes and the condition was so dire in some parts that the state’s disaster response team has to start rescue operations. Roads in the state capital looked like gushing streams. Disaster response forces moved to waterlogged areas with floating pumps to drain out water.

“Such situations have become annual events for the city of Bhubaneswar with heavy downpour becoming normal during rainy seasons,” Arun Samal, an accounts professional, told

Delayed monsoon

“There was only scanty rain since the onset of the monsoon till middle of July. Then, suddenly, we get two months’ rain within a week,” Samal said. “Such heavy rain for a short span would hardly help agriculture or serve any purpose but to make life miserable.” Within 24 hours till 8.30 AM, July 21, Bhubaneswar received a rainfall of 195 mm, according to Skymet Weather.

As the onset of monsoon was delayed this season, rain deficiency during June was 27% over Odisha. “As the rains continue to evade the state even during the first few days of July, thus until July 7, the deficiency mounted to a whopping minus 30%,” Skymet said.

According to India Meteorological Department data, rainfall in Bhubaneswar’s home district Khordha was deficient by 19% as on July 7. But, by July 21, the district received 29% surplus rainfall because of a few days of heavy rainfall. Although this cannot be directly related to climate change, untimely and intense rainfall is considered as one of the impacts of climate change.

Rise in the daytime ozone-mixing ratio due to high temperature during June could be provoking favourable conditions for higher ground level ozone formation and resulting in shifting the monsoon activation time to July, a study on surface ozone variation at Bhubaneswar suspected.

“Such pattern of a dry monsoon with a few days of extreme rainy days is induced by the phenomenon of climate change,” Prasanna Mishra, a retired bureaucrat and long time city resident, told

Summer heat

Even as extreme rainy days bring the city to a standstill, the heat on summer days is also becoming unbearable. This year in February, the highest temperature in Bhubaneswar reached 35 degrees Celsius, 7 degrees above normal. In March, the city remained the hottest in the country with 39.8 degrees. The mercury in the city touched 45.8 in April and continued to remain above 40 degrees during the next two months, with a lingering heat wave in the month of June, the month of monsoon’s onset.

“With high temperature and humidity, Bhubaneswar converts into a heat island during summer months almost since the past two decades,” Akshaya Pradhan, a physics teacher at the city based Biju Patnaik College of Science and Education, told

According to research, if wet bulb temperature (wet bulb temperature is a combined measure of temperature and humidity in the ambient air) exceeds 35 degrees Celsius, metabolic heat in humans can no longer be dissipated. Exposure to it for six hours would result in death even for the fittest of humans under shaded, well-ventilated conditions.

A sizable part of the Indian subcontinent is likely to experience more frequent and intensified heat waves and associated physical stress during the extended period covering the pre-monsoon to monsoon seasons, the research indicated.

Unruly expansion

Even though climate change is responsible for the extreme weather conditions experienced in Bhubaneswar, the impacts can be minimised through proper land use, said Mishra.

“Unfortunately, the city is expanding in an unruly manner. The natural channels for rainwater drainage are chocked at all ends and water bodies in the city have vanished to make space for housing and other commercial activities,” he said. “Despite strong guidelines, plans for high-rise buildings and apartments are being approved indiscriminately, without considering aspects like water drainage, sewage and waste management.”

Since most of the city is covered by concrete, there is no scope for the rainwater to seep into the soil, which would also recharge groundwater, said Niranjan Sahu, a tent house owner. “Because of this, groundwater level is continuously depleting,” he said.

Planned for a population of 40,000, Bhubaneswar now accommodates nearly a million people. As it expanded, things went erratic and now people face the problems, said Brundaban Dalabehera, a real estate developer.

Need of futuristic planning

“As the city now aspires to become the sports capital of India, it needs to address the issues that are vital to offer quality life to its denizens,” Dalabehera told

In order to protect the environment and avoid such man-made calamities, the city needs to restore its natural drainage systems on a priority basis, said Ramesh Swain, an architect and Bhubaneswar’s leading town planner.

“City planning needs to be futuristic considering what the city would be 20-30 years ahead and what would be population pressure and possible issues. People also should be educated to partner in the process,” he said.

Climate change impacts are being experienced globally and cities across the world are facing issues induced by it. Building resilience should be the priority to ensure sustainable urban growth.

Already ranked as a smart city, Mishra claimed, with two rivers and a wildlife sanctuary surrounding Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital city can become climate-smart and a model eco-friendly city if it is allowed to grow in harmony with nature and a bit of green is added to its development planning.

This article first appeared on the India Climate Dialogue, on July 23, 2018

October 17, 2014

Disaster risk management is not just evacuation

On Sunday, October 12, 2014, the very severe cyclonic storm Hudhud mauled the coastal city of Visakhapatnam and adjacent districts in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh. But the storm couldn’t gather further strength or last longer because of the geographical gift in form of the hill range that cushioned the city where the storm made the landfall.

The southern part of Odisha was also partially affected by the storm but there was no large scale devastation one normally associates with such powerful storms.

Disaster mortality reduced

The loss of lives has been largely controlled. So far, the death toll of Hudhud cyclonic storm remained 24, three in Odisha and 21 in Andhra Pradesh.

Cyclonic storm Phailin that hit Gopalpur coast, in October 2013, and subsequent floods killed 44 persons.

Over the last decade the death toll due to cyclones has come down drastically in comparison to the loss of around 10, 000 lives during the super cyclone of 1999 that hit the northern Odisha coast.
“Government cooperation, preparedness at the community level, early warning communication and lessons learned from Cyclone contributed to the successful evacuation operation, effective preparation activities and impact mitigation,” observed United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) while admiring Indian government’s response during Phailin cyclone of 2013.

In order to save human lives from the wrath of Hudhud cyclone, vulnerable villages in low-lying areas were evacuated and over seven lakh people were shifted to different cyclone shelters in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, as per the government bulletins.

Early warning from India Meteorological Department (IMD), timely action by disaster response forces, administrative preparedness at the state, national and local levels indicate that India has enhanced its capacity to deal with natural calamities like cyclones and floods effectively.

Growing magnitude of economic loss

Even though India has gained success in minimising loss of lives, the social and economic impacts of hydro-meteorological disasters have become a bigger concern. 

“Globally, the number of lives lost to hydro-meteorological disasters, such as cyclones, has decreased 10 times, yet the recorded economic losses have increased 50 times,” says UNEP.

While official assessment of damages caused by Hudhud cyclone is yet to come, it’s believed on basis of general estimations that the cost of damage could be around Rs.10,000 crore or USD 1.6 billion.

“India used to spend around $300 million a year on disaster preparedness, evacuation and relief in the early 2000s. But last year, the country spent over $1.6 billion,” says Ajay Sreevatsan of The Hindu.

“The expenditure on disaster relief has gone up from 5712.04 crore rupees in 2011-12 to 10684.02 crore rupees in 2013-14,” Sreevatsan reports.

As per the Global assessment Report, 2011, of United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), “Since 1981, economic loss from disasters is growing faster than GDP per capita in the OECD countries. This means that the risk of losing wealth in weather-related disasters is now exceeding the rate at which the wealth itself is being created.”

Disaster displacement on the rise

With over seven lakh people shifted to safer places during the Hudhud cyclone, displacement due to disaster has become another issue of global concern.

As per a UN backed report ‘Global Estimates 2014: people displaced by disasters,’ about 2.14 million people were displaced in India last year due to natural disasters placing it at third position after the Philippines and China in regard to displacement in 2013.

22 million people were displaced worldwide, in the year 2013, by disasters, almost three times more than the casualties of conflict in the same year, said the report.

During 2008-2013, a total of 26.13 million people were displaced in India alone, second only to China that had 54.25 million displacements.

In 2013 alone, 2.14 million people were displaced in India due to events of natural calamities while conflict and violence displaced about 64,000 people.

While in October 2013, widespread monsoon season floods displaced over a million in several Indian states, cyclone Phailin, the strongest to hit India in 14 years, brought widespread devastation to eastern coastal areas and forced the evacuation of almost a million people.

“Between 2008 and 2013, 80.9 per cent of displacement took place in Asia. The region accounted for the 14 largest displacements of 2013 and the five countries with the highest displacement levels: the Philippines, China, India, Bangladesh and Vietnam,” the report said.

The report by Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) shows that the risk of displacement due to disasters has more than doubled over the last four decades.

Integrated management approach needed

“Despite the magnitude of potential costs and loss of income, reducing disaster risks is still often perceived as a lesser priority than fiscal stability, unemployment or inflation,” says UNISDR in a paper titled ‘Towards a Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction’ while suggesting that “It is essential to continue to harmonize, integrate and embed disaster risk reduction within poverty eradication and sustainable development policies and programmes.”

So, apart from taking measures to save lives of the disaster prone communities, India has to integrate disaster risk management as a component of development planning and poverty eradication programmes.

As observed by UNISDR, involvement of communities, and more in general the adoption of a participatory approach to risk management, could be the most cost-effective and sustainable mechanism for reducing risks.

This piece first appeared on October 16, 2014 at the Odisha Sun Times.