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Warning signs for Mumbai

Heavy rainfall struck Mumbai on Friday resulting in waterlogging in parts of the city. Both the Thane and Navi Mumbai municipal corporations have sent out heavy rain alerts in the area for the next 48 hours. The Indian Meteorological Department has forecast very heavy rains in Mumbai and coastal Konkan region over the next 48 hours. It is high time civic authorities across India, especially around the coast, woke up to the reality that another serious tragedy is round the corner unless basic steps are taken to mitigate the threat of flood and water logging. According to a recent United Nations report, rising sea levels will pose a very serious threat to Kolkata and Mumbai by 2050. 

India headed a United Nations list of countries that are vulnerable to rising sea levels, with 40 million people in the country at risk in the next 34 years. Both Mumbai and Kolkata are at maximum risk of coastal flooding due to urbanisation and economic growth. Despite possessing Asia’s richest civic body, the city of Mumbai continues to suffer from severe waterlogging and floods every monsoon. While the BMC blames the rain gods, environmentalists, and urban planning experts point to rampant construction on flood plains, wetlands and forests. As per urban planning guidelines and Coastal Regulation Zone rules, construction should not be allowed on these natural zones.

Unfortunately, no municipal corporation follows these regulations. Mumbai’s low-lying areas are particularly vulnerable, particularly after the Mithi River, overflows its banks. For a very long time environmentalists have warned civic authorities about heavy silting in the Mithi river. Despite these urgent warnings, no real steps are taken to mitigate the problem. Instead, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region development Authority thought it wise to build its office on the river bank. Low-lying areas like Parel have been witness to a major construction boom. Some of the city’s tallest commercial buildings are located in the area. Before the construction boom, the soil in these areas was porous enough to absorb the excess rainwater. Moreover, the size of stormwater drains in the area has not increased in proportion to the number of buildings constructed. There is little these small drains can do to absorb the excess water.

The last time Mumbai was witness to a major environmental tragedy was on July 26, 2005. Back then, Maharashtra’s western coast was struck by a record 944 mm of concentrated rainfall. Many parts of the city were submerged under and a lot of civilians lost their lives. Life in Mumbai had come to a standstill for three days straight. It’s time the authorities remember what had happened.   
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