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Addressing flooding in the city of Surat beyond its boundaries

Submitted by Will Bugler 24th October 2016 14:11
6997980202 839021bf14 z 0 - climate adaptation.

Swaminarayan Temple, Surat, Gujarat, INDIA. Photo by Kailash Giri, via Flickr.

 

Abstract

This paper* describes the flood risks faced by Surat, one of India’s large port cities. The city is located on India's west coast, on the mouth of the Tapi River and faces flood risks not only from heavy precipitation in and around the city but also from heavy precipitation upstream and from high tides downstream. Reducing the risks from upstream run-off depends on better water management in a water catchment area and dam reservoir located far outside the city authority’s jurisdiction, in another state.

The paper reviews measures being taken to reduce flood risks and how climate change is likely to affect such flood risks. It suggests that part of the city’s response needs to be a greater ability to live with floods, while minimizing the costs these usually bring in terms of loss of life, damage to homes and disruption to businesses. 

This research paper was first published in Environment and Urbanization in July 2013, and can also be found at http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956247813495002.

*The full paper is available to download from the right-hand column of this page. Please note that the text in the key messages presented below has been augmented from the original.

Key Messages

Surat remains at high risk from floods, and thus far urban expansion has not been managed to address these risks. Climate change is likely to exacerbate flood risks, with increases in precipitation within and around the city and in the Tapi basin. The actual increase in flood frequency and intensity will depend on a number of factors, including the management of the Ukai dam under competing demands of water versus flood control, how and where the city expands (especially onto floodplains), landfill in the Hariza industrial complex to reduce risk to high-value industries from sea level rise/flood, and sea level rise.

The city has the capacity to address flood risks and has greatly improved the quality and reach of conventional infrastructure and services since the outbreak of plague in 1994. This includes hardening infrastructure and expanding essential services against floods. The municipal corporation has recognized the need for improved preparedness for floods. The performance of the early warning system is good but it would be much improved by a shift towards using IT, satellite-based weather monitoring reinforced with telemetered ground weather stations, and advanced real-time flood models.

The city may have to prepare to live with floods rather than flood-proofing the whole city. This would mean understanding future risks under increased urbanization and responding to changing risks. Land use planning and the enforcement of development rules based on risk categorization, as well as upgrading housing and other private infrastructure to withstand floods is important for this. Detailed, publicly available data on risks can help discourage growth in high-risk zones such as tidal creeks and beaches. It can also provide insurance companies with information on such zones and help them reach lower- income households. There is a need to explore group insurance or city level insurance that could be financed by a surcharge on house tax.

The expansion of the city boundaries to include the Dumas coastal area has made Surat a coastal city and any expansion of the city in this area is likely to increase flood risks from sea level rise.

Early warning needs to be improved to increase respite time, also better-informed community level response contingency planning is needed to minimize damage and loss. Hence the initiation of the end-to-end early warning system, as a soft measure that can have immediate benefits for the city’s residents and industry. To live with floods, city dwellers need to be trained to take effective individual and collective action to manage life with minimal disruption. Monsoon preparations need to include updating the database of the elderly, infirm and persons requiring special care, and provision for effective two-way communication.

As highlighted in the city resilience strategy, short-term measures need to be combined with longer-term strategies that may require more investment and preparation. An example of such a long-term measure would be the design, construction and management of a balloon barrage to better control the release of water from the Ukai dam. Slum rehabilitation programmes should incorporate features to enable living with floods, such as improved sanitation and waste management systems. Detailed flood risk assessment followed by the designing of suitable structures that incorporate flood protection features may be included during the planning stages. The urban community development department of Surat’s municipal council should have a strong role in enabling the slum communities to adapt to the floods. 

Further Resources