The 2015 Chennai floods was a wake up call for city planners and residents in metro cities across India. Since then, there has been endless debate and discussion on the causes and possible solutions for urban flooding. Although there has been some progress, flooding continues to occur, as we currently witness during the monsoon season. While we revisit and reiterate these discussions, there are also some radical solutions from other countries that could be worth looking at for continued progress.

Poor city planning and management happened to be one of the factors for disaster in Chennai. Through analysis and research of the Chennai floods, it was discovered that wetlands and water bodies could be taken into better consideration while planning. Research shows that there has been an immense loss of wetlands in Chennai, which has unfortunately translated into becoming flood zones for the city. You see, these water bodies, if maintained, are ideal for groundwater recharge. When they are encroached upon by private settlements, there is a greater risk of flooding. Every Indian metro city needs to identify its flood zones and avoid building settlements and encroachments there to avoid the risk of flooding.

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The city’s drainage system was also looked at after the 2015 floods. The lack of and careless solid waste management clogs up many of Chennai’s drainage systems. Lack of a macro drainage network connecting all parts of the city well happened to be a contributing factor to the 2015 floods.

Although various communities in Chennai came together for rescue efforts during the floods, discussions of having better disaster management plans were also brought up. Practicing safety drills in schools, companies, and other institutions could prepare the public a lot more. A good forecasting system well in advance could help carry out rescue efforts more efficiently.

A few more radical solutions can also address urban flooding. One of which includes green rooftops that can be easily incorporated in urban areas. Researchers in the West have been fascinated with the concept of green roofs, or roofs covered with plants, and finally begun to implement them in cities like California, New York, and Toronto. These green roofs have immense potential in storing rainwater. It is these miniature green spaces that will absorb a large percentage of rainwater. D 201

Keeping the city greener by planting more trees is always the simplest solution for flood control in metro cities. Rain gardens that are similar to green roofs, but lower to the ground, are also being implemented in countries abroad. These gardens also naturally trap and re-circulate rainwater.

Even more radical than these solutions are permeable concretes, which have already been incorporated in cities in China. Acting like a concrete sponge, this type of concrete allows water to pass through, accumulating storm-water underneath. Since 2016, China has incorporated the sponge city pilot construction in over 30 cities. Of course, pipes and drainage system would have to be completely re-arranged to accommodate this concept but it could be worth pondering over…

Aside from discussing layouts and radical ideas, residents and community groups need to get much more involved to protect their own city. Although civil society groups organize occasional cleanups in Indian metro cities, they can be much more regular and consistent in their efforts to appeal to the masses. Creating digital awareness by circulating eye-opening pictures and videos on social media could also help shatter ignorance and indifference. By giving access to information in a convenient and simplified manner to the public, there can be a much more collaborative effort to spark change.

The city of Chennai came together after such a huge stumble. With increased awareness and knowledge, residents of all Indian metro cities would surely come together to protect their city.

Words: Arushi Dutt

Pictures: M. Karthick and B. Vinod