Chennai (formerly Madras), the capital of India’s southern Tamil Nadu state, is gaining notoriety as the disaster capital of the world – floods one year, cyclone the next, and drought the year after. But it is not alone. Environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman explains why.
As I write this, it has rained in Chennai – the first real welcome shower, but one that lasted only 30 minutes. But, still, that has been enough to flood the streets and stall traffic. The irony is that Chennai’s vulnerability to floods and its water scarcity have common roots. Blinded by a hurry to grow, the city has paved over the very infrastructures that nurtured water.
Between 1980 and 2010, heavy construction in the city meant its area under buildings increased from 47 sq km to 402 sq km. Meanwhile, areas under wetlands declined from 186 to 71.5 sq km.
The city is no stranger to drought or heavy rains. The north-east monsoon, which brings most of the water to this region in October and November, is unpredictable. Some years it pours, and in other years, it just fails to show up.