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Climate Change as an Issue of Mobility and Equity

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

What challenges does Mumbai's flood-prone nature bring for its residents?

A flooded city by Nivedita Bansal

Mumbai’s geography and land-use history make it an area prone to extreme rainfall and flooding events. In recent years, these regular occurrences have been stronger and more frequent as a result of climate change. Current model projections anticipate that these extreme weather events will only worsen over time. These flooding events massively disrupt the lives of Mumbai residents, as businesses, roads, and public transportation come to a grinding halt and wait for the floodwater to recede.


The July 26 flood of 2005 was a dramatic flood that remains a vivid memory for those who endured it. The flood was considered a 100-year event, which means it has a 1% chance of happening in any given year. However, a 2010 study out of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment suggests that the likelihood of a similar scale event occurring within the next 50 years is more than double. In that same amount of time, the estimated economic loss associated with a catastrophic flood tripled to roughly $1890 million USD. These projections are based on climate change modelling alone and do not account for changes in population, economics, or land use. It’s expected that growth in these respective areas would only increase the likelihood of such a destructive flood.



Mumbai currently does not have the infrastructure to adapt its transit system to a changing climate. The prioritization of development projects and land reclamation blatantly ignores the projections of extreme weather events in the coming decades. Climate change alone triples the likelihood of a 100-year flood (like that of July 2005) within the next sixty years. With expected population increase and economic growth, it’s expected that the probability of such extreme weather events is even higher.


The vast majority of those who heavily rely on public transportation are working and lower-class residents of Mumbai. They often have no other means of transportation to carry them to and from work in the city. When these services are shut down due to flooding, they must either travel on foot, a risk to their health and safety or not be able to provide for themselves and their families. Not only does Mumbai need to reevaluate its development priorities and regulations, but it also needs to prepare for changing reality. A new, water-logged reality.

There is little to be done to prevent the inevitable flooding. However, Mumbai can strive to lower its global GHG emissions to maintain the lower threshold projections. Pioneering such a change would require a complete overhaul of current transportation methods. Private vehicles would have to be drastically discouraged. More environmentally friendly and sustainable modes of transportation and their required infrastructure must be prioritized by the municipal government. The current buses would have to transition to electric engines. Furthermore, the availability and attractiveness of electric vehicles (private, bus, and train) would have to increase dramatically.



To deal with the anticipated increase in such extreme weather events, some physical changes to the transportation infrastructure can be made as well. Sea walls and breakers can be built to protect coastal roads, as well as natural barriers like oyster reefs and mangrove forests. Roads and railways can be elevated, at least to about the high tide mark. Built structures can be ‘greenified’ to aid in water absorption and retention. Accessible, sustainable, and environmentally friendly transit-oriented development projects can be prioritized.


Climate change is an environmental, social, economic, and political issue. Public transit needs to be reframed and regarded as a civil right and an important tool in climate mitigation and adaptation. To create sustainable mobility within Mumbai, the intersection between climate and transportation needs to be recognized, acknowledged, and put into action.


References

Allen, DJ. (2018, December 4). Transit and Climate Adaptation = Transit and Equity. Meeting of the Minds.


BBC. (2017, August 29). Mumbai flooding causes transport chaos. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-41085606


Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience. (2017, September). Smart Policies for a Changing Climate: The Report and Recommendations of ASLA Blue Ribbon Panel on Climate Change and Resilience. American Society of Landscape Architects. https://www.asla.org/uploadedFiles/CMS/About__Us/Climate_Blue_Ribbon/climate%20interactive3.pdf


Chandel, MK., Padmanabhi, R., Dixit, AK. (2017, May) Adaptation Policy Packages for Transport Sector - Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. https://www.toi.no/getfile.php/1348369-1530708499/Publikasjoner/MUMBAI_Adaptation%20Policy%20Packages.pdf


Dhiman, R., VishnuRadhan, R., Eldho, T.I. et al. (2018, December 4). Flood risk and adaptation in Indian coastal cities: recent scenarios. Appl Water Sci 9, 5. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13201-018-0881-9


Staff Writer. (2020, September 23). Mumbai rains: Authorities shut transport, offices after heavy rains flood city. Mint. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/mumbai-rains-authorities-shut-transport-offices-after-heavy-rains-flood-city-11600845954497.html



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