Why does a one day of heavy monsoon rain flood Mumbai’s streets? Why is the city always under the threat of coming to a grinding halt like 26 /7? And despite the warning, why is climate change still not seriously deliberated upon? Climate change isn’t going to come in like a giant typhoon. It’s already happening. Our weekend exclusive is an analysis on Mumbai looming ecological disaster as we try to find out whether the financial capital of India is sinking? Shocked residents of Mumbai, India’s financial capital, have been living in fear every time its pours cats and dogs after the deadly 26 / 7 deluge of the city that made headlines all over the world. Post 26 / 7, flooding of Mumbai streets has become an annual affair – so are these the first signs of climate change and global warming taking a toll on Mumbai? Yes, say experts. This year, the long dry winter and the alarmingly early monsoon is already making farmers nervous. It could, as the impacts increase, do worse damage: dry up rivers, increase threats of diseases and bring natural calamities at frequency not seen before. And the city will face worse. Experts say that pockets of Mumbai will resemble Kevin Costner’s movie Water World, not in the next 90 years, but in just 10 years. According to experts unprecedented rise in the sea level of about 1.2 mm every year will submerge low lying areas like Juhu, Backbay, Mahalaxmi and Worli amongst many others will be submerged by 2018, going by the rise in sea levels say experts. Mumbai has expanded exponentially but in an unplanned way affecting the city’s capacity to combat disasters. A report published by IIT Chennai, in May 2008 says Mumbai has a bleak future. There are reasons for this : BANDRA WORLI SEALINK The Bandra-Worli Sea Link, an ambitious flyover project that has come under fire from environmentalists for making ecological compromises. The flyover crossing the sea has pinched the mouth of the Mithi River that drains most of Mumbai’s excess water out into the Arabian Sea. MITHI RIVER Playing with Mithi River both for airport expansion plans and the Bandra Worli Sealink cost the city dearly. MANGROVES MASSACRE The systematic destruction of about 1,000 acres of the city’s mangrove cover – what’s left, about 5,000 acres, is under threat – has deprived Mumbai of its natural flood-barrier and silt trap. And horror stories abound of urban welfare projects gone terribly awry continue to be reported. Mangroves have been cleared to build golf courses, amusement parks and rubbish dumps. Building construction is planned even on 5,400 acres of salt pan land. Experts say the historical process of reclaiming the sea to build the city is the cause of Mumbai’s problems. FAULTY PLANNING Thousands of tonnes of uncleared debris choke the city’s 100-year-old storm water drains, which urgently need an overhaul. And in a city where 88% of commuters use public transport, governments spend a lot on flyovers and a pittance on upgrading creaky trains and buses. An unholy nexus between politicians and builders and unrealistic development dreams has brought Mumbai and neighboring city Navi Mumbai to the brink of collapse. URBAN COLLAPSE It’s not just the “no-development zones” that have fallen prey to the frenzy of unplanned building. Successive state governments have signed off open lands on the pretext of housing the poor. In fact, the replacement of low-lying slums with multi-storey buildings has made the city a concrete jungle. If Mumbai’s unprecedented flooding every year is an early warning of global warming and rising sea levels, the city will “become an island again, be it with rain water or sea water”. When both bureaucracy and leaders have failed to show ecological literacy, the only way out is citizen’s awareness. Unfortunately even that is not happening. That leaves us but with one choice says Debi Goenka.
May 22, 2009