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Why You Can't Blame Excess Rains Alone for the Mess That's Bengaluru Right Now

Poor urban planning is one of the primary reasons for rains wreaking havoc in Bengaluru.

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Bengaluru is flooded. After just two days of excess rains in India's tech capital, several areas are now fully inundated and waterlogged.

According to the meteorological department, the rains, which began on Sunday, 4 September, are the heaviest the city has witnessed in over 42 years and are set to continue till at least the end of the week.

Electricity has been cut off in parts of the city. Drinking water access has been shut off in parts of Bengaluru after a water pumping station was flooded in Mandya. And after just two days of excess rainfall, many roads and neighbourhoods have been left waterlogged and inaccessible.

But can we blame the excess rains alone. There are three reasons behind the mess that is Bengaluru right now.

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Bengaluru City Layout and Design

The rains started on 4 September and quickly evolved into a torrential downpour.

On 5 September, some parts of Bengaluru received over 13 cm of rain, and others got as much as 18 cm of rain in just one day. This is well above the average single-day rainfall.

But can just one day of excess rainfall lead to waterlogging and flooding on a scale like this? Civil planners say this may have something to do with Bengaluru's layout and city design.

"The roads are designed badly. Drains should be next to the roads and footpaths next to properties. But in most roads in Bengaluru, we have the opposite. We've tried to correct this with the newer roads. And roads built under the Tender S.U.R.E programme. But out of 15,000 roads only 15 are now designed properly. We need to expand this design to other roads."
Ashwin Mahesh, Urban Expert and Climate Scientist
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Inefficient Storm Drains & Drainage Infrastructure

Another reason for the waterlogging is that Bengaluru's storm drains are old, decayed, and start overflowing with as little as 5 to 10 cm of rain.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has blamed the previous Congress-led government in the state for allowing encroachment of storm drains which are also called rajakulves.

This encroachment extends to illegal structures, dumping of waste by citizens, and inadequate cleaning by the municipal corporation. The government has said it will clamp down on these illegal structures.

"Now the government has announced it will demolish encroachments on rajakaluves. Will this help? Yes. Will it solve the problem? No. A lot of previous announcements have been carried out in an incomplete way. Until we actually see this carried out in total, we can't expect a good outcome from this."
Ashwin Mahesh, Urban Expert and Climate Scientist

Mahesh goes on to add that contractors hired for the work need to be fully aware of how to create cylindrical pipes, rather than the rectangular ones they currently use.

"Water flows better in a cylinder. But our pipes are not cylinders. There's a reason for this. The contractors we select to prepare these drains don't know how to make a cylinder. They know how to lay steel pipes and pour cement on them, therefore we end up with rectangular pipes," he adds.

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Climate Change

Infrastructure and urban planning failures are one side of the coin. The other side is climate change and its consequences. We've spoken about the impact of climate change in many of our videos. Check them out here and here.

In short, the melting of ice caps and glaciers because of global warming coupled with hotter temperatures creates more evaporation and as a result, more rainfall.

So, while global warming and climate change are making the world hotter, they're also making rains heavier and more dangerous.

"Climate change is real and it's changing the patterns of rainfall, especially in south India. The storage infrastructure we've had in the past is not appropriate for the kind of rainfall and kind of distribution we're receiving today."
Ashwin Mahesh, Urban Expert and Climate Scientist

Mahesh adds, "Across peninsular India we need to reimagine and rethink this approach to storage structures. This is not so much a city problem. But these sorts of things (climate change) have implications."

The solution is a combination of technical and political action, he says.

"Too many of the people in charge of city infrastructure are choosing bad design and bad contractors to suit their political and vested interests. Until we realise that and start electing people who will serve public interest rather than their own interest, the change we need won't happen," he says.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Bengaluru   Climate Change   Explainer 

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