Volunteers in New Delhi collecting relief material for Chennai's flood affected people. (Photo: Bism

Volunteers in New Delhi collecting relief material for Chennai's flood affected people. (Photo: Bismillah Geelani)

Life is returning to normal in Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, where severe floods wrecked havoc last week.

The floods have claimed hundreds of lives and affected millions more.

As Bismillah Geelani reports, the focus is now on the causes of the disaster and whether overdevelopment is to blame.

Outside a hospital in Chennai, 35-year-old Savithri is holding a photograph of her husband Rajendran.

A construction labourer, Rajendran left for work in the morning as usual on his bicycle, but did not return.

Five days later he’s still untraceable.  

“Nobody is telling me where he is, I have been to every hospital and each mortuary with this photograph but he’s nowhere. Where shall I find him now?” she asks, “What shall I do now? I have been completely destroyed. If he is dead at least give me his body. How can he disappear like this?”

Like Rajendran, many people are missing following the devastating floods that hit India’s IT hub Chennai earlier this month. 

Non-stop torrential rains battered the city for several days in what is believed to be the heaviest rainfall in a century – submerging almost the entire city. 

Forty five-year-old Ramananda lived in a slum area that has been completely washed away. He lost everything.

“We couldn’t understand how so much water came into the area and within minutes it was all over,” he says, “Everything flew with it, the houses, the clothes, the utensils and even the human beings. What is left is just these clothes on my body.”

According to government sources about three hundred people have died while more than 4 million others are affected.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, says a committee is being set up to conduct a detailed study and report back in the next two weeks.

As the water levels are now receding, the relief work is in full swing with the National Disaster Response Force along with the Army and Air force trying to reach out those in need. 

Volunteers like Rakesh Kumar are doing their bit to bring relief to the thousands of homeless people taking shelter in schools, temples and mosques.

“There is about 4 feet of water inside the houses but so far we have got no relief,” he says, “We have had scant supply of food but the drinking water is totally zero, we have got nothing here but we are trying to help maximum number of people by providing them some drinking water and we have given shelter to a lot of people.”

Many residents are worried about poor sanitation as drainage systems are totally dysfunctional and there is a real threat of an outbreak of disease. 

And as life in Chennai limps back to normalcy, the focus is now shifting to what caused the epic flood. 

Environmentalists like Om Praksh Sharma says there is a clear link to global warming.

“The basic things we know about climate change is that it will increase sea surface temperature and the result would be more frequent cyclones and other such things,” says Sharma, “And since we live in the tropics the damage caused to environment anywhere would affect us. So climate change is one of the factors.”

But urban planners like Jamal Ansari say development in river-basin areas is to blame.

“Earlier the cities were built in such areas where they remained beyond the reach of the rivers. Now we are getting into the river, we are constructing buildings into the river basin areas,” he explains, “Now what is happening is that those very areas are being encroached upon, they are being used for real estate development and they are being blocked and with the result our flood proneness is increasing.”

Chennai is known as India’s IT and education hub. 

Over the years hundreds of educational institutions have been built in the city to accommodate the increasing flow of students. 

And almost all these campuses have been built on the marshland along the Adyar River.

According to senior journalist Rajesh Sundaram it is the unholy nexus between the land mafia and the politicians that makes the process all the more lethal.

“Until the politicians sit down and say that this much and no more and reverse some of the things that have happened in the past, situations like this will continue to arise and with much much greater regularity,” says Sundaram.

The news of the Chennai floods also reverberated to the Paris climate summit, with some world leaders urging India to reduce its carbon footprint. 

 

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