As floods swamp Hyderabad, the focus is on the inadequacy of drainage infrastructure
A deep monsoon depression over the west central Bay of Bengal, which weakened as it moved over Telangana, resulted in downpours over several districts in the State, severely affecting the city of Hyderabad as well. On October 13, the monthly average rainfall of Hyderabad for October (103.6 mm according to Skymet) was surpassed on a single day when 192 mm of rain fell. According to the India Meteorological Department, this is the highest rainfall for October recorded in Telangana’s capital since 1903. Such a high intensity downpour in a short span is bound to affect a densely populated urban area, and Hyderabad was no exception. At least 24 people were killed and several localities submerged and isolated following incessant rains and the overflowing of the city’s lakes. Other districts were badly affected too: roads damaged and irrigation tanks breached. The monsoon storm that never became a cyclone, has managed to cross the east (Andhra Pradesh) and west coasts (north Karnataka and Maharashtra) of India. This is rare and a rain-related disaster event that is difficult to plan for. Floods and deluges, like any other disaster, disproportionately affect the poor. Disaster management agencies have managed to limit the impact of the disaster as many of those marooned in submerged areas and flooded houses were rescued. But the extent of the damage and the turmoil show a lack of preparation and disaster mitigation, a problem that plagues most urban centres in the country.
Much of the damage was due to the overflowing of lakes — in particular, the Hussain Sagar Lake in the middle of the city and the breaching of storm water drains. Construction over lake beds and encroachments of drainage channels have been identified as problems that have exacerbated flooding and inundation in the city in the past (the deluge in August 2000, for example). But the little that has been done to unblock existing storm drains over the last decade has not been enough to handle the requirements of the city, which still depends upon an antiquated sewerage and drainage system. Hyderabad urgently needs to expand and remodel its drainage system. Besides lakes and canals, wetlands and watersheds play a vital role in absorbing excess rainfall, but regrettably, rapid urbanisation in the twin cities has resulted in the loss of a large portion of the wetlands. An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment in 2016 revealed that 3,245 hectares of water bodies were lost in Hyderabad between 1989 and 2001. In the long term, the effects of flooding due to deluges can only be mitigated if urban planners take into account the hydro-geology of cities and ensure that construction, development and land occupation do not take place in a way that reduces the area of wetlands.