Like most cities in India, Bhubaneswar is being driven to its knees due to extreme rainfall and intolerable temperatures, underscoring the urgent need for climate-smart urban planning

The heavy rainfall this weekend in Bhubaneswar saw authorities deploying floating pumps to drain waterlogged areas (Photo by Basudev Mahapatra)

After intense overnight showers, Bhubaneswar woke up on Saturday morning with half the city under water. The situation at the capital of the eastern state of Odisha in many ways typifies poor urban management in India that is crumbling under adverse climatic conditions.

Residents in many parts of the city were stranded in their homes and the condition was so dire in some parts that the state’s disaster response team has to start rescue operations. Roads in the state capital looked like gushing streams. Disaster response forces moved to waterlogged areas with floating pumps to drain out water.

“Such situations have become annual events for the city of Bhubaneswar with heavy downpour becoming normal during rainy seasons,” Arun Samal, an accounts professional, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

Delayed monsoon

“There was only scanty rain since the onset of the monsoon till middle of July. Then, suddenly, we get two months’ rain within a week,” Samal said. “Such heavy rain for a short span would hardly help agriculture or serve any purpose but to make life miserable.” Within 24 hours till 8.30 AM, July 21, Bhubaneswar received a rainfall of 195 mm, according to Skymet Weather.

As the onset of monsoon was delayed this season, rain deficiency during June was 27% over Odisha. “As the rains continue to evade the state even during the first few days of July, thus until July 7, the deficiency mounted to a whopping minus 30%,” Skymet said.

According to India Meteorological Department data, rainfall in Bhubaneswar’s home district Khordha was deficient by 19% as on July 7. But, by July 21, the district received 29% surplus rainfall because of a few days of heavy rainfall. Although this cannot be directly related to climate change, untimely and intense rainfall is considered as one of the impacts of climate change.

Rise in the daytime ozone-mixing ratio due to high temperature during June could be provoking favourable conditions for higher ground level ozone formation and resulting in shifting the monsoon activation time to July, a study on surface ozone variation at Bhubaneswar suspected.

“Such pattern of a dry monsoon with a few days of extreme rainy days is induced by the phenomenon of climate change,” Prasanna Mishra, a retired bureaucrat and long time city resident, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

Summer heat

Even as extreme rainy days bring the city to a standstill, the heat on summer days is also becoming unbearable. This year in February, the highest temperature in Bhubaneswar reached 35 degrees Celsius, 7 degrees above normal. In March, the city remained the hottest in the country with 39.8 degrees. The mercury in the city touched 45.8 in April and continued to remain above 40 degrees during the next two months, with a lingering heat wave in the month of June, the month of monsoon’s onset.

“With high temperature and humidity, Bhubaneswar converts into a heat island during summer months almost since the past two decades,” Akshaya Pradhan, a physics teacher at the city based Biju Patnaik College of Science and Education, told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

Submerged cars at a showroom on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar (Photo by Basudev Mahapatra)

According to research, if wet bulb temperature (wet bulb temperature is a combined measure of temperature and humidity in the ambient air) exceeds 35 degrees Celsius, metabolic heat in humans can no longer be dissipated. Exposure to it for six hours would result in death even for the fittest of humans under shaded, well-ventilated conditions.

A sizable part of the Indian subcontinent is likely to experience more frequent and intensified heat waves and associated physical stress during the extended period covering the pre-monsoon to monsoon seasons, the research indicated.

Unruly expansion

Even though climate change is responsible for the extreme weather conditions experienced in Bhubaneswar, the impacts can be minimised through proper land use, said Mishra.

“Unfortunately, the city is expanding in an unruly manner. The natural channels for rainwater drainage are chocked at all ends and water bodies in the city have vanished to make space for housing and other commercial activities,” he said. “Despite strong guidelines, plans for high-rise buildings and apartments are being approved indiscriminately, without considering aspects like water drainage, sewage and waste management.”

Since most of the city is covered by concrete, there is no scope for the rainwater to seep into the soil, which would also recharge groundwater, said Niranjan Sahu, a tent house owner. “Because of this, groundwater level is continuously depleting,” he said.

Planned for a population of 40,000, Bhubaneswar now accommodates nearly a million people. As it expanded, things went erratic and now people face the problems, said Brundaban Dalabehera, a real estate developer.

Need of futuristic planning

“As the city now aspires to become the sports capital of India, it needs to address the issues that are vital to offer quality life to its denizens,” Dalabehera told indiaclimatedialogue.net.

In order to protect the environment and avoid such man-made calamities, the city needs to restore its natural drainage systems on a priority basis, said Ramesh Swain, an architect and Bhubaneswar’s leading town planner.

“City planning needs to be futuristic considering what the city would be 20-30 years ahead and what would be population pressure and possible issues. People also should be educated to partner in the process,” he said.

Climate change impacts are being experienced globally and cities across the world are facing issues induced by it. Building resilience should be the priority to ensure sustainable urban growth.

Already ranked as a smart city, Mishra claimed, with two rivers and a wildlife sanctuary surrounding Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital city can become climate-smart and a model eco-friendly city if it is allowed to grow in harmony with nature and a bit of green is added to its development planning.

 

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