As a matter of relevance the report from The Hindu appeared on the same day when Prof. John Chan was in Cambridge delivering his talk on Urban Cities under Global Warming with focus on Asia and it couldn’t have come at a better time for me when I was wondering what went wrong for Chennai during the recent floods?
Prof Chan spoke about the impact of rising temperatures in mega cities esp Hong Kong and Singapore. He and his colleagues have done extensive work in analyzing data on temperature, rainfall and sea level. And some of their key findings were
- Of course average annual temperature is rising. More importantly just by getting skyscrapers in the city there is an increase in the average temperature unless the designs are planned well.
- The number of hot nights (avg night temp >28C) and cold nights (avg night temp <12 C) are rising in Hong Kong. This clearly indicates we are swinging between extremes.
- The return period of extreme rainfalls is shorter. What was taking forty years to return now takes less than 5 years. The record for the highest rainfall is now broken in less than 5 years. That’s definitely not good.
What can be done?
- Accept that the tipping point is now up on us. We have to just prepare to reduce the damage. Examples include how Hong Kong built a storage tank below a football field and Kuala Lumpur built a tunnel that acts as a tank during heavy rains.
- Analyzing temperature data is really critical. Gather data and analyze them. Lack of data for remote locations in big countries is a dampener.
Experts blame the Chembarabakam reservoir for causing the damage. Maybe true. But that definitely is not the root cause. The cause is town planning. I found this article for support. If the town was better planned the disaster could have been avoided. But it cannot be done, here is why..
- Urban planning requires fund to be spent on the main city. We could build something like what Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur built in the city by spending a lot of money.
- But, the priority for a developing country like India is enabling people get a better life. That means building a link across every small village across the country. That means our money is spent in developing this network.
- In Chennai’s case, there has been rapid progress in the last decade. But little was done in the old part of the city which has the largest residential population and where the impact of the floods was highest. Instead most of the development happened around Chennai in the roads that led to the city. It created more jobs and made life better for a lot of people.
So, could we strike a balance? It is really tough. No wonder India was seeking climate justice at the Paris Conference. We are growing and our funds are spent in sustaining this growth but we are loosing our footing. We have no answer for climate crisis for which we had no rule to play until now. But, the reconstruction cost in recovering from a disaster like from the Chennai floods is really high. That makes me wonder should we just spend money in planning existing cities rather than expanding?
That probably calls for Sustainable Development.