Floods are simply put – an excess amount of water reaching the land in a very short period of time, causing the surface to be submerged under water and causing widespread destruction to life and property. The 2015 South Indian floods caused by the annual northeastern monsoon in November and December impacted Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Andhra Pradesh drastically. The floods took the lives of approximately 514 people in Tamil Nadu and caused widespread property damage. With nearly 1.8 million people displaced from their homes, houses submerged and streets water logged, Chennai is in a state of despair. Even though the winter monsoon rains are quite sporadic, the coastal regions of South India expect these rains every year and these rains contribute up to 30% of its annual rainfall. The rainfall ended on November 25th, 2015. However, the India Meteorological Department predicted heavy rainfall over parts of Tamil Nadu for the week after that. The impact of the rainfall was however, quite a surprise, as Chennai had not faced such intense rainfalls in the past century. On December 1st 2015, major parts of coastal Tamil Nadu were inundated. There was widespread agitation among the people of Chennai, who had nowhere to go due to the sudden inundation. People blamed the government for not taking the predictions of the Meteorological Department seriously.
Owing to the sordid saga of heavy rainfall, Chennai was officially declared a ‘disaster area’ and in a state of emergency. People claim that the directionless and callous behavior of the government officials only worsened the situation. The water released from the Chembarambakkam reservoir, which held the water from the Adyar River caused the situation to go out of control. The rainfall prediction caught the attention of the Public Works Department officials and they advised the concerned authorities to lower the water level in the reservoir from 22 feet to 18 feet to make enough space for the anticipated inflow, however, this plea was not taken into consideration and the reservoir subsequently reached its highest capacity of 24 feet and eventually the water spread out all over the city, causing the city to get inundated. In fact, even areas that were not previously impacted by the heavy rainfalls were wrecked. As victims were forced to leave their homes, watch their belongings get washed away and swam their ways out of fear; they could not help but blame the authorities for the condition that could have been prevented by merely reducing the water level in the reservoir by 4 feet. It can evidently be said that if the authorities took prior precautions, the situation would have been in control. The government could have evacuated areas that were predicted to be effected, instead of waiting till their homes were submerged in water.
From the point of view of disaster management, the citizens of the effected areas point fingers at the government and call it a man-made calamity. If precautions were taken prior to the heavy rainfall and flooding, Chennai would probably not be in the unfortunate condition which it is in right now and the widespread damage to life and property could be prevented to a large extent. A major reason why Chennai was so deeply affected was because of the poor planning of the city such as poor regulation of the illegal constructions, chocking of water exists and badly planned construction projects. The Chembarambakkam reservoir had no detention basins. Detention basins are small reservoirs built and connected to waterways to provide a temporary storage for floodwaters. This means that during an event like floods, the water is drained into the basin first; giving people time to evacuate and it can also reduce the magnitude of downstream flooding. In order to avoid such devastating epidemics in the future, India needs to concentrate on building ‘smart’ cities through appropriate town planning and management. Lowering water levels in hydraulic dams and taking preventive measure with respect to the overflow of dams should be the first step taken by any effected government, which did not happen in this case. Chennai showed signs of buildings and developing infrastructure that limited the flood water to drain out. This evidently caused widespread destruction to property and did not give the opportunity for people to evacuate. It can be inferred that town planning plays a major role in such acts of God. It is important that builders acquire permission before buildings are erected. This will ensure that the waterways are not blocked. Also, drainage systems must be covered and kept free from objects that choke them. This way, water can quickly run through if it rains and minimize any chance of town flooding. The Chennai international airport can be taken as an example to explain the poor town planning of Chennai. The airport, which primarily has two runways were constructed against the required standards. A portion of the secondary runway was built over the flood basin of the Adyar River; a bridge was built over the river blocking the free flow of water. The fundamental instrument of flood fighting – Storm water drains, were abandoned and this led to further destruction.
The fact that the government of Tamil Nadu stepped in to help its people cannot be denied. The half-yearly school examinations were postponed, victims were being shifted to recovery camps, the Indian Railways stopped its operation and the Airport was at a standstill. However, the government of Chennai could have interpreted the impact of the El Nino rainfalls by taking the Meteorological Department predictions into consideration instead of overlooking them. Even though the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa said that the effects of such a natural calamity are unavoidable, facts suggest that it could have been manmade. The underestimation of the impact of the floods caused a major deficiency amongst the concerned authorities. The Army, the Coast Guard and the National Disaster Response departments were ready to help but there was no coordination between each department. Precautions such as issuing regulations banning building, residing in, and access to identified risk zones and implementing specific protective systems such as alarm signals could have helped to a large extent. The fact that the government of Tamil Nadu stood up for its people, when in need, has to be appreciated and any government faced with sudden calamities cannot ideally solve the problem overnight. Careful considerations and methods of prevention could be implemented but they were not so the only step forward is to help Chennai and the other effected areas come back its normal state.