‘Mumbai sinking’ is not just an alarm

Residents wade through a flooded street, following heavy rains in the low lying area of Dadar, in Mumbai. PTI File Photo

Rising sea levels can affect millions of people in Mumbai, and the city is at the risk of being wiped out.

A study carried out by Climate Central, a non-profit that analyses and reports on climate science, was recently published in the journal Nature Communications and it set alarm bells ringing in some big cities including Mumbai.

The study estimates that by 2050, over 250 million people would be living in areas that would be prone to coastal flooding — but this is not something that a Mumbaikar does not know.

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Every year during monsoon, parts of Mumbai and the larger Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) — which include parts of neighbouring Thane, Palghar and Raigad districts, experience flooding.

Rising sea level isn’t a new phenomenon. The Gazetteer of Bombay City and Island, published in 1910, refers to the island of Mahim, which was one of the seven islands that originally made up Mumbai. By comparing the accounts in the gazette with the present extent of the land, we get to know that a considerable portion of it now lies below the sea level. 

Mahim is also one of the oldest fishing villages in this part of the country.

“Nowadays, water reaches our doorstep during high tide. During spring tides, above 4.5 m, water even gushes into some of our dwellings,” says Bhushan, a local fisherman. “The fish catch has also reduced. Climate change is affecting our livelihoods,” he said.

Veteran environmentalist and conservationist Bittu Sahgal said, “There is no time left, we have damaged Mumbai, we are damaging the city further...we need to take urgent measures.”

“The first remedial measure is to accept what is happening. The denial mode or fixing the problem on a short-term basis is not going to work,” he said, adding that big infrastructure projects are aggravating the problem. “We are cementing roads, grounds and open space. But what about the aquifers? The catchment area is stressed,” he said, drawing attention to the projects around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Besides, he also pointed to the dismal conditions of the rivers of Mumbai — Mithi, Dahisar, Poisar and Oshiwara.

The deluge of July 26, 2005 — one of the worst incidents that Mumbai had ever witnessed is still afresh in memories. Mumbai and the MMR, which is spread over 4,355 sq km could not withstand the pressure of 944.2 mm rainfall in 24 hours. A high tide was accompanied by rainfall following a cloudburst. It resulted in over 500 deaths and rendered lakhs homeless in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane and Raigad districts. The rail, road and air traffic came to a standstill for two days. The total losses were estimated to be Rs 2,000 crore.

“The report is really alarming. Just a few mm rise may not mean much immediately but in the long run, it is dangerous. What will happen to the buildings in low-lying areas, the buildings in reclaimed land... there would be corrosion, the foundations of these buildings would be weakened,” said conservationist Shardul Bajikar. “Coastal agriculture would be damaged. Water problems are going to increase, the borewell water would be saline,” he warned.

“We have all builder-friendly laws in the country, particularly in Mumbai. The builders have lobbied with governments to make windfall profits. The environment is not a criterion at all,” said Damodar Tandel, a fishermen’s leader.

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