Chennai Floods- Climate Crisis

  • IASbaba
  • November 13, 2021
  • 0
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  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
  • GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development

Chennai Floods- Climate Crisis

Context: Chennai is flooded. The north-east monsoon over Tamil Nadu has brought with it the highest volume of rainfall within 24 hours in the last five years.

It has also revived memories of the devastating Chennai floods of 2015.


  • Floods recur in major cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Dhaka, Karachi and Kathmandu, and accompany high-intensity rainfall events.
  • IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report (AR6) report noted the increasing frequency of heavy precipitation events since the 1950s and inferred that they were being driven by human-induced climate change.
  • Climate Change is only a part of story the other part is land-centrism.

Land Centrism

  • All cities in the subcontinent are waterscapes. They are threaded with rivers, speckled with wetlands and springs, and they rest on invisible aquifers. 
  • Yet, driven by a thirst for land, our cities are planned to subjugate water, not live with it. It is this land-centrism that undermines urban drainage.
  • Urban drainage has been sacrificed at the for making way to land-centric urban growth.
  • The apathy for restoring disappearing urban waterways, stands in stark contrast to the Indian government’s recent obsession with reviving ancient rivers.
  • Urban floods are also caused by the design of constructed stormwater drains. The size of their outlets should be based on the intensity of rainfall (mm/per hour) and the peak flow inside the drains. 
  • In India either design guidelines are missing, or the outlets are too small to accommodate peak flow. As a result, above-average rainfall produces flooded localities.
  • Similarly, by violating environmental laws and municipal bye-laws, open spaces, wetlands and floodplains have been mercilessly built over, making cities impermeable and hostile to rainwater.
  • Unfortunately, encroachments are always blamed on the urban poor who live precariously in low-lying drainage areas because of inadequate social housing. 
  • After the devastating Chennai floods of 2015, experts pointed out that the biggest encroacher of urban waterways and wetlands was actually the state government which had built runways, bus terminals and IT parks by paving over water bodies.
  • Ever since concretisation became pivot for urbanisation, rainfall no longer finds its way towards underground or surface water bodies.


  • To heal the hydrophobia that has shaped our urban experience, we need to move away from land-centric urbanisation and recognise cities as waterscapes. 
  • We need to let urban rivers breathe by returning them to their floodplains.
  • The entire urban watershed needs to heal, and for that to happen, we need less concrete and more democracy and science at the grassroots.

Connecting the dots:

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