Should we blame climate change for Bengaluru 'flood'?

Bengaluru is part of the south India tank system where numerous lakes and ponds, all linked with each other, survived for centuries, some of which are still functional
Last Updated : 12 September 2022, 06:14 IST
Last Updated : 12 September 2022, 06:14 IST

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As we see the horrific images of floods coming from India’s information technology (IT) capital, it reminds us of a broken system beyond repair. Let me explain this. In early 1990, Bengaluru was called a garden city. The citizens did not need a fan even in the middle of the summer. The water bodies of Bengaluru were its defining feature as well as its vast green cover and numerous gardens.

In just over three decades, the picture has changed completely. Its infrastructure is dwindling, traffic congestion is horrible, ACs have been installed, and floods have become a standard feature every monsoon.

How did we come to this level? There are two sides to the story. First and foremost is the planning for an expanding city and its demands on its infrastructure. In the wake of being the IT capital, the city has expanded much beyond the support from the basic infrastructure such as access to water, sanitation, drainage and road.

Bengaluru is part of the south India tank system where numerous lakes and ponds, all linked with each other, survived for centuries, some of which are still functional. It has given protection not only to the capital city but also to the entire state against flood and drought conditions. When it rains excessively, the water will flow from one tank to another, filling the whole interconnected tank system. It helped in recharging groundwater and increasing soil moisture of land and thus boosting its productivity. In many areas of Karnataka, second irrigation was rarely needed as the lake systems would suffice the needs of the vast agrarian communities. The greed for urban expansion led by the IT revolution has engulfed many water bodies. It has broken the interconnectedness of the lakes system, making them independent from each other rather than being part of the more extensive system for flood control and drought management.

Then comes the effect of climate change. The average rainfall for Bengaluru city is around 970 mm for the entire season. On Monday, about 130 mm of rain happened in just 24 hours.

IPCC reports had warned earlier about the extreme weather events, which have shown a sharp rise in Asia. A few months before, Bangladesh had reeled under severe floods followed by Assam foods. The incessant rains in Uttarakhand and Himachal followed next. Pakistan is now reeling under unprecedented floods. China is facing extreme drought. These events are all interconnected and were sharply predicted by the recent IPCC reports.

Going back to urban areas, it is now home to about 4.2 billion people worldwide. As per IPCC’s projections, an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in urban areas by 2050. Between 2015 and 2020, urban populations grew globally by more than 397 million people, with more than 90 per cent of this growth occurring in Asia and Africa. Urbanisation processes have generated vulnerability and exposure, combined with climate change hazards, which have led to urban risk and impacts. IPCC Scientists have reported, with high confidence, that worldwide, the risk faced by people and assets from hazards associated with climate change has increased. Within the city, climate-led events impact the poor and marginalised, who share the consequences disproportionately.

What can be done, so we do not see the horrific flood events that Bengaluru has faced this week? First, there must be a recognition that these incidences are climate change-led events. Therefore, the city’s infrastructure must be redesigned to look at past events and future projections. Second, Bengaluru’s numerous lakes and ponds have been its first line of defence under freak weather events and must be protected. IPCC report talks about preserving the city’s blue and green infrastructure, which must be implemented. Third, the adaptation plan for Bengaluru must be made, updated and implemented in letter and spirit.

Governance capacity, financial support, and the legacy of past urban infrastructure investment constraints are reasons why Bengaluru cannot adapt to these extreme weather conditions. They need to be corrected soon, or we will see these pictures again in 2023.

(The writer is the research director and adjunct associate professor at the Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business.)

Published 11 September 2022, 17:29 IST

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