Urban Flooding (Disaster Management)

Urban Flooding (Disaster Management)

This article deals with ‘Urban Flooding (Disaster Management).’ This is part of our series on ‘Disaster Management’, an important pillar of the GS-3 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


Urban Flooding  (Disaster Management)

Urban flooding refers to the situation in urbanized regions where there is an overflow of water due to inadequate drainage capacity. This occurs when stormwater accumulates in urban areas and is unable to find an outlet, leading to inundation and waterlogging.

Causes of Urban Flooding

  • Encroachment of Flood Plains, Mangroves, Wetlands, Lakes, etc.: Rapid urbanization has led to the encroachment and destruction of natural water bodies that act as natural buffers against flooding. For example, 
    • Bengaluru: There were 260 lakes in 1960 and 10 now
    • Mumbai: Mangroves and salt pans have been destroyed for constructing high-end residential buildings 
    • Chennai: Encroachment of wetlands and flood plains 
  • Unprecedented Rainfall: Indian cities experience heavy rainfall during the south-west monsoons. The average monthly rainfall in Mumbai in July is 868 mm. Such intense rainfall events overwhelm the drainage systems and cause urban flooding.
  • Cyclones and Hurricanes: India’s extensive coastline exposes it to tropical cyclones. The development of coastal cities and towns makes them vulnerable to inland flooding and storm surges caused by cyclones.
  •  Unpreparedness in Urban Planning: Many cities lack adequate urban planning and infrastructure to handle urban floods. Unlike cities like Tokyo, which have invested billions in building water discharge tunnels and advanced drainage systems, Indian cities often lack such preparedness.
  • Concretization of Cities: The extensive use of concrete and asphalt in urban areas reduces land permeability. It prevents water from seeping underground, increasing surface runoff and exacerbating the risk of urban flooding.
  • Urban Heat Island Effect: The phenomenon of urban heat islands, where cities experience higher temperatures than the surrounding countryside, can influence rainfall patterns. The hot air over cities can cause rain-bearing clouds to be pushed up, resulting in highly localized and intense rainfall events.
  • Global Warming: Climate change has led to unexpected and extreme changes in rainfall patterns. For instance, Chennai experienced unusually high rainfall in November 2015, with 1200 mm compared to the average of around 400 mm. 
Cities facing Urban Flooding in India

Case Studies

1. Global Examples

1.1 Kuala Lumpur

  • Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, has faced significant challenges with urban flooding due to its geographical location and heavy rainfall.
  • To address this issue, the city has implemented an innovative solution by constructing extensive water discharge tunnels. Tunnels divert excess floodwater away from the city’s densely populated areas. By creating an alternative pathway for water to flow, these tunnels alleviate the burden on the city’s drainage systems and prevent overwhelming floods.

1.2 Tokyo

  • Tokyo constructed a stormwater management system that includes the construction of reservoirs, underground storage facilities, and permeable surfaces to help capture excess rainwater and prevent it from overwhelming the drainage system.
  • Tokyo has prioritized the incorporation of green infrastructure, which can absorb rainwater and reduce runoff.
  • Installed Early Warning Systems

2. Indian Examples

2.1 Davangere (Karnataka)

Davangere faced recurring urban flooding due to heavy rainfall and inadequate drainage systems. To address this issue, the following was done.

  • Improved the city’s stormwater drainage infrastructure 
  • Desilted water channels
  • Created storage ponds and reservoirs to hold excess water during heavy rains temporarily 

2.2 Agartala (Tripura)

Agartala experienced significant urban flooding due to its geographical location and heavy rainfall patterns. To mitigate the impact of flooding, the city authorities adopted various measures. 

  • Construction of flood protection embankments and bunds along vulnerable areas
  • Development of rainwater harvesting structures, such as ponds and recharge pits, to capture and store rainwater, thereby reducing the burden on the drainage systems. 
  • Improved its sewage and stormwater drainage networks 

Disaster Management for Urban Flooding

Disaster Risk Reduction (Before Urban Flooding)

  1. Disaster Mapping: Conducting comprehensive risk assessments to identify vulnerable areas prone to flooding using geographical and historical data.
  2. Infrastructure Development: Constructing and maintaining flood protection infrastructure such as embankments, levees, and floodwalls and developing reservoirs, retention ponds, and water storage facilities for floodwater management.
  3. Early Warning Systems: Establishing advanced meteorological monitoring systems to predict heavy rainfall and extreme weather events and alert residents and authorities about impending floods.
  4. Conducting public awareness campaigns to educate residents about responding to incidents of urban flooding

Disaster Response (During Urban Flooding)

  1. Emergency Response: Activating emergency response teams and evacuating residents from high-risk areas to designated shelters or safer locations.
  2. Communication and Coordination: Establishing emergency helplines and control rooms to address queries and provide assistance.

Recovery and Rehabilitation (After Urban Flooding)

  1. Damage Assessment and Recovery: Conduct rapid damage assessments to determine infrastructure damage and losses.
  2. Long-Term Measures:
    • Conducting post-flood analysis and evaluating the effectiveness of existing flood management strategies.
    • Updating flood risk maps and revisiting urban planning regulations based on lessons learned.
  3. Capacity Building: Training and equipping local authorities and emergency response teams to handle future flood events effectively.

Measures Taken by the Government

1. Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for mitigating Urban Flooding by the Central Government under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT). It lays down a predefined set of directives or responsibilities for public agencies in a city/town in 3 phases: 

  1.  Pre-Monsoon Phase: Preparedness and Planning for Disaster Reduction.  
  2. During Monsoon Phase: Early Warning, Effective Response and Management, and Relief planning and execution
  3. Post-Monsoon Phase: Restoration and Rehabilitation.

2. Sponge Cities Plan by Urban Local Bodies and State Governments to make cities more permeable. Sponge cities involve the use of porous materials and technologies to improve the city’s capacity to absorb rainwater. E.g. use of permeable material for roads and pavement, contiguous open green spaces, green roofs, etc.

3. National Guidelines on Management on Urban Flooding by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)   

1 thought on “Urban Flooding (Disaster Management)”

  1. Bengaluru can consider tunnel diversion for excess flood water built beneath rajakaluves. This probably is a solution for upstream overflow from canals arising out of encroachments by builders. Cost to be borne by encroachers besides paying penal levy calculated on the extent of area encroached at twice the present market price.


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