Mumbai fears for homes and lives amid rising seas

Facing severe flooding as sea levels rise, authorities in India’s financial capital Mumbai are building bunds and restoring coastal mangrove trees to protect the vulnerable mega-city. (AFP)
Updated 24 September 2019

Mumbai fears for homes and lives amid rising seas

  • During the monsoon, near-daily storms regularly flood Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest slums
  • Mumbai is already vulnerable to floods because so much of it is below the high-tide line

MUMBAI: Huge swathes of Mumbai’s beaches have already been lost to rising seas. Now shanty dwellers fear for their homes and critics say India’s largest metropolis — like other world mega-cities — is not doing enough to hold back the waves.
During the monsoon, near-daily storms regularly flood Dharavi, one of Asia’s biggest slums and home to some of the coastal city’s most vulnerable residents.
“The situation has been getting worse every year, with our homes knee-deep in water,” Venkatesh Nadar, 38, who has lived in the shanty settlement his entire life, told AFP.
Nadar said authorities have not told him what might happen to his home as sea levels rise, or if they are doing anything to help his family move.
“It’s dangerous and worrying for our children’s future, and leaves every family living here at God’s mercy,” he said.
If a dire UN prediction saying that the sea could rise by one meter (three feet) in the century up to 2100 because of global warming comes true, one academic report suggests a quarter of Mumbai could be affected.
Even a 20-centimeter (eight-inch) rise would more than double the frequency of flooding in tropical zones such as the Mumbai coast, according to a 2017 report by US experts.
Mumbai, which British colonial rulers formed by joining seven small islands, is already vulnerable to floods because so much of it is below the high-tide line.
The shore has retreated by more than 20 meters (yards) at some Mumbai beaches over the past 15 years, according to studies by the Watchdog Foundation activist group.
Hundreds have died and billions of dollars of damage caused in floods over the past two decades — and one storm alone in 2005 left 500 dead.
Floodwaters already overwhelm Mumbai’s decrepit drainage system every monsoon.
The Maharashtra state government’s response has concentrated on building 20 sea walls — including four off Mumbai — and a huge mangrove planting campaign along the state’s 720-kilometer (450-mile) coast.
Offshore reefs and beach restoration plans are also being considered.
Mangroves act as sponges to soak up excess rain and stormwater, and hundreds of thousands of saline-resistant trees and shrubs have been planted in a bid to create tropical tidal forests that act as a buffer against sea surges.
Forestry officer D.R. Patil and his 300 staff wade through knee-deep water to plant the trees and make sure they are protected.
“Mangroves are the first line of defense against flooding and we don’t have any other options,” Patil told AFP at the Airoli mangrove plantation on Mumbai’s fringe.
“Even a boundary wall cannot protect the city as much as mangroves.”
Maharashtra authorities have given mangroves protected status, and have powers to stop development on wetlands, remove slums and build walls.
Patil said there are now more than 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of mangroves after boosting cover in the state by 82 percent between 2015 and 2017.
Environmentalists, however, say the action is a half-hearted response.
While mangroves are important, the loss of natural drainage systems such as rivers and creeks was also crucial, said activist Nandkumar Pawar.
He said some laws meant to protect the coast have been “relaxed” so that new buildings had crept closer to the shore, covering rivers and creeks that also provided an escape route for floodwaters.
Climate scientist Roxy Mathew Koll of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology believes that the increased frequency of flooding in the mega-city calls for extra defenses — as well as a warning system to protect the growing population.
“We need to have a long-term vision,” Koll told AFP.
Amid all the criticism, Maharashtra Maritime Board deputy director Jitendra Raisinghani said hard-pressed state authorities were working on a coastal management plan.
“We are doing the best as per our capacity and resources,” he said. “There is never enough and you can do more.”
Stalin Dayanand, an outspoken activist with the Vanashakti environmental group, said there had to be more natural defenses.
“We are using measures which will increase conflict with nature by relying on civil engineering solutions like building walls,” he said, adding that more deaths and damage were inevitable.


US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

Updated 31 October 2020

US passes 9 million coronavirus cases as infections spike

  • On Friday the US set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours
  • More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began

WASHINGTON: The United States passed nine million reported coronavirus cases on Friday and broke its own record for daily new infections for the second day in a row, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University, as Covid-19 surges days before the country chooses its next president.
The US, which has seen a resurgence of its outbreak since mid-October, has now notched up 9,034,295 cases, according to a real-time count by the Baltimore-based school.
On Friday the country set a record for new daily infections of more than 94,000 in 24 hours, breaking the record of 91,000 it had set just one day earlier.
With the virus spreading most rampantly in the Midwest and the South, hospitals are also filling up again, stretching the health care system just as the nation heads in to flu season.
"We are not ready for this wave," Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University school of public health, warned on ABC's Good Morning America on Thursday.

COVID-19 tally by the John Hopkins University of Medicine as of October 30, 2020.

Authorities in El Paso, Texas, imposed a curfew this week to protect "overwhelmed" health care workers and began setting up field hospitals.
But a judge's attempt to shut down non-essential businesses in the city has been challenged by the mayor and the state's attorney general, the Washington Post reported.
Midwestern state Wisconsin has also set up a field hospital in recent weeks, and hospital workers in Missouri were sounding warning bells as cases rise.
Hospitals in the western state of Utah were preparing to ration care by as early as next week as patients flood their ICUs, according to local media.
The pattern of the pandemic so far shows that hospitalizations usually begin to rise several weeks after infections, and deaths a few weeks after that.
More than 229,000 people have died of the virus in the US since the pandemic began, the Hopkins tally showed as of Friday, with the daily number of deaths creeping steadily upwards in recent weeks also -- though at present it remains below peak levels.
For months public health officials have been warning of a surge in cases as cooler fall weather settles over the US, driving more people indoors.
As the weather changes, New York and other parts of the northeast, which were the epicenter of the US outbreak in the spring but largely controlled the virus over the summer, were reporting a worrying rise.
Some epidemiologists believe that Covid-19 spreads more easily in drier, cool air.
Rural areas, which in the spring appeared to be getting off lightly compared to crowded cities, were also facing spikes with states like North Dakota charting one of the steepest rises in recent weeks.
The state is so overwhelmed that earlier this month it told residents they have to do their own contact tracing, local media reported.
With four days to go until the election, Donald Trump was battling to hold on to the White House against challenger Joe Biden, who has slammed the president's virus response.
"It is as severe an indictment of a president's record as one can possibly imagine, and it is utterly disqualifying," Biden said Friday as the toll passed nine million.
Trump downplays the virus even as the toll has been accelerating once more, holding a slew of rallies with little social distancing or mask use.
He has repeatedly told supporters that the country is "rounding the curve" on Covid infections.
But Americans, wary of crowded polling booths on Election Day as the virus spreads, are voting early in record numbers.