Mumbai Rains: 26 July 2005 to 29 Aug 2017. What Have We Learnt?
What happened in Mumbai on 29 August wasn’t nature’s fury.
Twelve years ago, I was a 26-year-old red-blooded young man who couldn’t sit back and watch as the world fell apart around him. So, I disregarded all the well-meaning advice from friends and family and set out to help find two school-going daughters of a neighbour who was afraid they might have drowned in the muddy waters of Wadala on their way back from school. Yes, this was the day when the rain gods decided to remind us of our mortality.
The day was 26 July 2005. Along the way, I also tried to rescue strays. While cats still manage to leap and find higher ground, I saw many dogs and puppies helplessly swimming in the areas on my way that were inundated in anywhere between 2-4 feet of water.
I appealed to kind building watchmen and residents to let the animals stay in their stairwells at least till the time water levels subsided. They agreed, though some reluctantly.
We finally reached Wadala, a low lying area that gets inundated every monsoon, but what I saw was very different from any of my previous experiences. I saw a BEST bus with water way above the window level. The bus passengers had wisely abandoned the bus and left much before things got this bad. Our fears renewed, we pushed forward to try and locate the girls. Luckily they were both safe as the school had made arrangements for all stranded students and staff to stay on the higher floors of the building. Realising we could not go back with the rain still falling with greater intensity, we wisely decided to wait with the kids.
We didn’t really have social media back then. It was the blogging era, MumbaiHelp.Blogspot.in was born then where citizens helped citizens find resources online. It is still active now. There was no digital india then, but there was empathy-in-action on the online world too.
Agreed though, between then and now information was not as robust, Twitter and Facebook were not born. Fast forward to 2017, we did not just have text messages but also abundant visuals from every corner of Mumbai. 29 August 2017 came as a reminder that we’re yet to learn from our mistakes.
But that’s not the only difference between then and now. July 26 was a cloudburst where it rained well over 900 mm over a span of 24 hours and it didn’t stop raining after that. This time the rain was a third of what we saw back then. And yet, the city was inundated. At first I thought that channels were just playing old visuals, but got a stinking reality check when I stepped out.
While once again I was fortunate enough to find shelter for the night and even help a few animals (yes, they mean more to me than people and are always a priority), I was unable to understand why we were so determined to pitch Mumbai’s problems in the same league as what was happening in Texas. Hurricane Harvey that has just made a second landfall has left 30,000 people homeless and killed 30 people at last count. My Twitter feed had so many people showing off their English language vocabulary using words like “typhoon”, “hurricane” and “cyclone” to describe what was happening in Mumbai. I should confess, even I was swayed by the chatter on social media and believed it was truly a cyclone... but a cursory glance outside my window revealed that it was just a very heavy and prolonged downpour.
I don’t understand why we are calling this a flood? A flood is what happened in Assam.
What? You haven’t heard of Assam floods? Maybe because water-logging in Mumbai gets more viewers than an actual flood in Assam. A flood occurs when excess rain causes water bodies like rivers and lakes overflow their banks and inundate nearby areas. That is what happened in both Assam and Bihar.
In Texas too, the Brazos and Colorado rivers were flowing at their highest mark in centuries and then levees of reservoirs began to burst spilling water and destruction all over. Rivers in Mumbai overflow because frankly they are treated like glorified garbage disposal systems. On any given day, come rain or sunshine, you will find plastic bags, used sanitary napkins, rat carcasses and sundry flotsam bobbing about on the surface of Mithi, Poisar, Ulhas and Ulwe rivers. Now it is our first instinct to blame the municipal corporations for their failure to set up pumping stations, clean rivers and upgrade our drainage system despite their being an allocation over hundreds of crores of public funds for the same. But just answer the following questions:
Do you segregate your garbage?
Do you recycle your plastics?
Are you opposed to the idea of a waste treatment plant or a garbage collection facility coming up anywhere near where you live or work?
Are you open to buying property in an area where development would pose a serious threat to the nearby mangroves or forests?
Let’s get this straight - What happened in Mumbai on 29 August wasn’t nature’s fury.
It was water logging due to poor drainage and fast disappearing mangroves and forest cover.
A 5th class student will tell us how important it is to save trees and especially mangroves that hold water. Maybe, we need to be governed by a 5th grade student because as adults, we failed. It was human failure… humans in the government, humans sitting at home and sundry keyboard warriors. Just think about these things before you start pointing fingers and playing an ugly blame game that goes nowhere. Now, excuse me while I go help a cat out of a tree.
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals.)
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