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Urban Expansion into Flood-Prone Areas: A Ticking Time Bomb

Why is it in the news?

  • With the summer monsoons unleashing their might earlier this year, cities like Bengaluru, Gurugram, and Mumbai found themselves submerged.
  • This trend of urban areas succumbing to floods, causing loss of life, livelihoods, and economic ramifications, is becoming increasingly common.
  • A recent study backed by the World Bank gives insight into the crux of the matter.

The Eye-Opening Study

  • Published in the esteemed Nature journal, a study directed by the World Bank has linked increased urban flooding risks with the rampant and continual urban sprawl into areas that are flood-prone.
  • The past four decades have seen human settlements in such high-risk zones more than double since 1985.
  • This accentuates the dire need for sustainable urbanisation and effective urban expansion planning.

The Growing Problem

  • India has been witnessing escalating urban floods, and this phenomenon isn’t merely coincidental.
  • According to a report by the State Bank of India, events like the North India floods and Cyclone Biparjoy in 2023 led to losses estimated between Rs 10,000-15,000 crore.

A Global Perspective

The study sheds light on global flood patterns and urban settlement dynamics:

  • East Asia tops the list for the highest rate of settlement expansion in flood-prone areas, while sub-Saharan Africa and North America have shown restraint.
  • Middle-income countries display more urban settlement in flood-prone zones compared to low- and high-income nations. Notably, India qualifies as a low-middle-income country by the World Bank’s standards.
  • Though India isn’t amongst the top 20 nations most exposed to flood hazards, its sheer size makes it the third-highest contributor to global settlements in flood-prone areas.

Challenges of Urbanisation & Flooding

  • As per Ecohydrologists, the frequent flooding incidents to intensified monsoons is due to climate change. The core issue, however, remains the zones of urban expansion.
  • The rapid growth of cities like Bengaluru, which has seen its population soar from 1.6 lakh in 1901 to over a crore in 2022, showcases the dire consequences of unchecked urbanisation.
  • The resulting construction in low-lying areas, impeding natural waterways and increasing impermeable surfaces, only intensifies the flood potential.

The Disparity of Risk

  • While urban expansion into flood-prone zones is a collective tale of the elite and the underprivileged, the risk is disproportionately borne by the latter.
  • Such settlements, due to their unofficial nature, often occupy the least desirable yet available spaces, leading to their establishment in low-lying, flood-prone zones.

Looking Ahead: Solutions and Strategies

  • Proper Mapping: Every city must scientifically map flood-prone areas.
  • Storm-Water Management: Enhance storm-water management by installing storm-water drains in flood-prone zones.
  • Resilient Housing: Urban governments should focus on making housing in such areas flood-resilient and prioritize the upgrade and protection of low-income housing.

Way Forward

  • India’s growing urbanization, if unchecked, could further expose millions to the risks of flooding.
  • Recognizing, addressing, and planning with these challenges in mind is imperative.
  • With proper urban planning and sustainable solutions, India can steer its cities towards a safer and flood-resilient future.

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