Mumbai Rains: What has the city learned from the 26th July 2005 floods?

Jul 26, 2018, 16:50 IST | Sunny Rodricks

As Mumbai reels under the heavy downpour again, we go 13 years down the memory lane to address why does the city submerge under water every year?

Mumbai Rains: What has the city learned from the 26th July 2005 floods?
The city had received 944.2 millimeters (37.1 inches) of rainfall back in the 25th July floods, the heaviest rainfall ever in a single day in Indian history.Pic/AFP

13 years ago, on 26th July 2005, heavy showers of rain lashed Mumbai city in the most horrific way! Rains in Mumbai continued the next day flooding every nook and corner leaving Mumbaikars stranded. Over a thousand people lost their lives and many were injured during the Mumbai rains on 26th July 2005. The Mumbai floods were caused by the eighth heaviest ever recorded 24-hour rainfall figure of 994 mm.

As Mumbai again reels under the heavy downpour, we go 13 years down the memory lane to address this - Why does the city submerge under water every year? Here are certain aspects that Mumbai still needs to look into since the devastating 26/7 floods.

Outdated drainage system: Aspiring to be a global city cannot be achieved with the use of 100-year old drainage systems in place. Mumbai still has the British era drains which may not be able to keep up with the pace at which the population is increasing and demographics changing rapidly. The city’s drainage system has a capacity of handling around 25mm of rain an hour which may not be capable of avoiding floods in the city. Post the 2005 deluge, the BMC had announced the Brihanmumbai Stormwater Drainage (Brimstowad) project that aimed at constructing 8 pumping stations and 58 projects as a part of the project. However, the project progressed rather slowly and even today the project is almost halfway through completion resulting in the costs to escalate.

Lack of Open spaces: With the rapid development and industrialization that Mumbai is witnessing, open spaces are dwindling faster. Schools, educational institutions, non-government organisations have been given more priority over parks, gardens and open spaces that act as the city's buffer zones, which allow water to seep in and prevent flooding.

Rapid destruction of mangroves and forest cover: Mangroves, forest covers, and the coast are the pride of Mumbai. But reclamation of land around the Mithi River and about 3,130 trees to be axed in Aarey will only add to woes. With industrial, commercial and residential areas releasing large quantities of wastewater containing chemicals, oils, plastic and heavy metals into the river and drains it is extremely difficult for rivers to accumulate rainwater to their full capacity. The problem further escalates with concrete jungle springing up in Santacruz and Kurla (The suburbs through which the river flows) alongside the rivers.

An Indian resident of a shanty town scoops water out of his house after it was flooded by rain, at Kalina. Pic/AFP
An Indian resident of a shanty-town scoops water out of his house after it was flooded by rain, at Kalina. Pic/AFP

Open drains and failed nullah system: If Mumbai is the financial capital of India then the suburbs is the heart of Mumbai city. It is the suburbs where the bulk of Mumbai’s population frequent and it is these suburbs that are become a breeding ground for roadside open drains and the failed nullah systems. The nullahs are mostly choked and blocked by tonnes of garbage especially plastics thrown by the citizens which need to be removed in every pre-monsoon 'desilting' exercise. This makes the nullah fail to throw excess waste into the sea when the high tide is sufficiently high and it’s pouring cats and dogs in the city.

Failed advisories and response: Although the depth and reach of social media have made Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp critical tools of communication during times of calamities and real-time situation updates, the advisories to stay indoors come late and the government apparently feels that the city hasn’t flooded yet (well, until pictures of cars and people stuck in knee-high water and trains services brought to a halt emerges).

Blame Game continues: In August 2017, Mumbai flooded once again and received over three times the rainfall as compared to the 37 inches of rainfall that it received 13 years ago, on 26th July 2005. Uddhav Thackeray, President of Shiv Sena, compared the August 2017 rains to Hurricane Harvey in which Houston city had submerged. Year after year the blame game continues but the city is yet to find a concrete and fool-proof solution to its flooding woes.

Flooding spots number game: Hindmata, Kurla, Sion, King Circle, Matunga, Juhu are few of the low lying areas of Mumbai which are prone to flooding during a heavy downpour. Back in 2017, the BMC claimed that there were 66 spots prone to flooding which have increased to 79. Wondering why? Unable to pump out stagnant water across the city, the BMC felt that the rapid construction of Metro III for adding to the city’s woes. A senior civic official from the Storm Water Drains (SWD) department said, "The number of flooding spots has increased because of many big ongoing infrastructure projects. At most places, they have damaged our stormwater drain network, which is adding to citizens' woes. The main concern is the Metro work, which is going on all over the city." From 40 chronic flooding spots in 2014 to 79 in 2018; seems like the city’s situation only gets worse.

Failure to use technology: For quite sometime now, CCTV cameras were installed in every ward and across the city of Mumbai. But is the city's civic body making the utmost use of such a facility? This network of CCTV cameras can be a great tool to monitor areas of traffic congestion and rising floods not only in the suburbs but also in the low lying areas of Mumbai. Thereby giving real-time updates to the government to swing into action before the situation goes out of control. 

A cloudburst that released at least 944 mm of rain on 26th July, 2005 brought Mumbai to its knees. With its wrath came an outbreak of diseases that was due to landslides, amimal carcasses and the aftermath of floods and flood related diseases. Stampede, suffocation, elotrocution, wall collapses added more woes to the death toll in the deluge of 2005. Water borne diseases such as cholera, leptospirosis, diarrhoea, typhoid, malaria were on the rise and claimed the maximum deaths due to the prolonged floods of 26th July.

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