Chennai rains: Time to implement guidelines on urban coastal floods

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As the rains continue to pound Chennai, one must take into consideration that the Tamil Nadu government has done a commendable job in handling the situation.

However, on the other hand the point that one needs to ponder over is that the guidelines set by the National Disaster Management Authority for urban floods needs to be implemented at the earliest.

Chennai Rains

Mihir Bhatt, fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Institute and director of the the All India Disaster Mitigation institute speaks with OneIndia on the Chennai floods and what lessons one would need to learn from coastal-urban area flooding.

Coastal urban areas need flood preparation:

Mihir Bhatt says that coastal urban areas need a flood preparation plan since the Mumbai floods of 2005. Although a plan was required the same has not taken off in the urban coastal areas.

The National Disaster Management Authority's guidelines for urban floods needs to be implemented at the earliest.

However, in the case of Chennai one could say that the flooding has been quite unusual and could not have been totally avoided.

Urban development and the way surrounding land is being used such as marsh, waste land open lands needs far more thinking
At the same time, one must also add that the Tamil Nadu administration has done a commendable job in handling the situation.

Tamil Nadu has over the years set up a lot of systems to tackle such situations. Also the governance in Tamil Nadu has been far better than many other states.

What the next couple of days have in store:

Mihir Bhatt says that it is hard to tell how much it would rain in Chennai over the next couple of days. Also one cannot comment on what the response would be in the next couple of days because it is for the first time that the city has flooded in such a manner.

People need to be cautious and support their administration. I would say that even in areas that are less likely to be flooded, people have to be more cautious.

Need to learn from floods:

Bhatt says that we need to start learning from our flood experiences and innovating for future responses.

The National Disaster Management Authority has made serious efforts to capture our national flood experience over past decade or so in the form of preparing Flood Guidelines and Urban Flood Guidelines.

Similarly Bihar is in the process of developing a flood recovery model with World Bank support around Koshi flood recovery. This model may be of great use to all flood prone states in India.

Assam has has initiated review of its disaster management plans plans across all districts and four cities facing floods year after year. Even districts such as Champaran and Madhubani in Bihar are unfolding participatory processes to involve flood victims in hazard mapping.

What these multi level initiatives tell us that a lot is being done to better respond to floods and reduce the flood risk and yet it is not enough.

A lot more needs to be done in terms of our flood response to protect economic growth and spread the fruits of social protection in various states of India.

Large scale ecosystems restoration across river basins including plantation of diversity of vegetation is also pointed out as a gap.

The said flood management initiatives also point to the gap of not having faster better and more effective ways of making damage and loss assessments after floods. Losses suffered by the communities that migrate out due to floods are often unaccounted for. So are losses to women workers, tribal citizens and minority groups.

Most importantly the floods response must be climate smart. That is the response must invest in local capacity to adapt to build resilience to floods. State climate adaptation plans and disaster management plans can not remain two disconnected plans.

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